20 new transit lines will open in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in 2020.
These new transit lines won’t be adequate alone to counter the large-scale investment in highway construction that dominates most metropolitan regions. But they will significantly improve public transportation for thousands of riders in many large cities.
There’s also a lot more on the way. About 60 more major transit projects will be under construction in 2020 and are expected to open by 2026. Some cities, like Montréal and Seattle, will essentially double the size of their urban rail systems during that time.
This compilation of new transit projects is based on The Transport Politic’s transit database, Transit Explorer 2. This database is frequently updated and provides information about existing, under construction, proposed, and cancelled fixed-route transit throughout North America.
In addition, the data it includes has been improved and expanded dramatically compared to the past. It includes almost 7000 transit stations (including for commuter rail, not previously included), and almost 1000 transit lines. Now additional information, such as the year that stations were opened and their grade—e.g. subway or elevated—is also available.
New transit investments completed in 2019
In 2019, roughly 200 miles of new fixed-guideway transit service was opened throughout North America; these projects cost a total of roughly $7 billion to complete.
In Canada, the most exciting intervention was the opening of the Confederation Line in Ottawa, which includes a new downtown tunnel and a light rail network that replaces an oversubscribed busway; it is designed to eventually carry about 240,000 daily riders. The Confederation Line’s benefits will be magnified by several extensions planned for the next few years.
In the U.S., the opening of a new busway on 14th Street in Manhattan attracted considerable attention, as the project immediately increased transit ridership but did not ramp-up surrounding traffic. It may be a model for other American cities looking to improve their bus options—demonstrating that giving bus services dedicated lanes and freeing them from being stuck behind cars is an effective way to get people to ride.
Throughout this article click on to explore the line on Transit Explorer 2.
Regional rail (Relatively frequent service on mainline rail tracks) opened in 2019
- Denver Gold Line—11.2 miles, part of an overall $2.1 billion project including other lines
- SMART Train Phase 2—2.1 miles, $43 million
Commuter rail opened in 2019
Metro rail opened in 2019
Light rail opened in 2019
- Denver Southeast Rail Extension—2.3 miles, $233 million
- Ottawa Confederation Line—7.7 miles, C$2.1 billion
- Phoenix Gilbert Road Extension—1.9 miles, $184 million
- Waterloo Ion Light Rail—11.8 miles, C$770 million
Bus rapid transit (Improved bus service with dedicated lanes) opened in 2019
- Albuquerque ABQ Rapid Transit—14 miles, $133 million
- Calgary Southwest Transitway—13.7 miles, C$304 million
- Indianapolis Red Line—13.1 miles, $96 million
- New York City M14 SBS
- San Diego South Bay Rapid—26 miles, $126 million
- Seattle Swift 2 Green Line—12.4 miles, $67 million
Arterial rapid transit (Improved bus service, but no dedicated lanes) opened in 2019
- Chicago Pace Pulse Milwaukee—7.6 miles, $14 million
- El Paso Brio Alameda—12.2 miles, $36 million
- El Paso Brio Dyer—10.2 miles, $36 million
- Kansas City Prospect MAX—10 miles, $56 million
- Minneapolis C Line—$30 million
- Tulsa Aero—18 miles
Planned openings in 2020
In 2020, several long-awaited projects will open across the continent, including three heavy-rail routes, two new light rail lines, two commuter or regional rail extensions, and 13 improved bus projects.
In Vancouver, the metropolitan region has already opened four RapidBus bus rapid transit routes, which include dedicated bus lanes, queue jumps, all-door boarding, and relatively high levels of frequencies. A fifth new line is planned for opening in April.
In Miami, a new downtown rail link will leverage the infrastructure built by Virgin Trains to extend the region’s Tri-Rail commuter rail system into the center of the city for the first time.
But the largest investments by far are being completed in the Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington regions. In Hawaii, the first phase of that state’s first rail line—an elevated route—will open. In Los Angeles, the Crenshaw Line, a $2.1 billion light-rail route that includes a subway portion and a new station near LAX Airport, will be completed. In the Bay Area, the BART rapid transit system will continue its slow path toward downtown San Jose with a $2.4 billion extension to Berryessa station. And outside of Washington, the Silver Line will finally reach Dulles Airport, thanks to a $2.8 billion extension
Each of these projects is considerably delayed compared to original projections. Honolulu’s rail transit first phase was supposed to open in 2012; the Crenshaw corridor was supposed to open in 2016. BART’s extension all the way into central San Jose—now put off for many years into the future, was supposed to open in 2018. And Metro service to Dulles was originally planned for 2016.
Regional Rail opening in 2020
- Denver: N Line Phase 1—13 miles, $343 million
Commuter rail opening in 2020
- Miami: Tri-Rail Downtown Miami Link—9 miles, $69 million (combined with Virgin Trains downtown Miami terminal)
Metro rail opening in 2020
- Honolulu: Rail Transit Phase 1—10 miles (East Kopolei to Aloha Stadium; remainder of project should open by 2025)
- San Francisco Bay Area: BART to Berryessa—10 miles, $2.4 billion (first phase of project that will eventually extend to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara)
- Washington: Silver Line Phase 2—11.4 miles, $2.8 billion (to Dulles and Loudoun County)
Light rail opening in 2020
- Guadalajara: Linea 3 LRT—13.3 miles, ~US$1 billion
- Los Angeles: Crenshaw Line—8.5 miles, $2.06 billion
Bus rapid transit opening in 2020
- Grand Rapids: Laker Line BRT—13.3 miles, $71 million
- Houston: Uptown BRT—4.5 miles, $193 million
- Montréal: Sauvé/Côte Vertu BRT—2.9 miles
- Omaha: Omaha BRT—8 miles, $31 million
- San Francisco Bay Area: East Bay BRT—9.5 miles, $216 million
- Washington: US 29 Flash BRT—13.5 miles, $31 million
- Winnipeg: Southwest Transitway BRT—4.7 miles, C$508 million
- Vancouver: RapidBus R1 King George Boulevard; R2 Marine Drive; R3 Lougheed Highway; R4 41st Avenue; R5 Hastings Street
Arterial rapid transit opening in 2020
- Albany: BusPlus Blue Line—15 miles, $42 million
A busy decade to come
Despite the relatively limited investments made in transit improvements in the 2010s, cities throughout North America will expand their fixed-guideway transit networks substantially beyond 2020.
In this final section, I document all of the transit projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that are already under construction or will enter construction in 2020 (at least preliminary work will be underway), and thus that are highly likely to be completed. The same cannot be said for the dozens of other proposed projects on Transit Explorer 2, many of which will fall to the wayside thanks to funding crises, political backlash, and other problems.
Four metropolitan regions will see extensive improvements to their transit systems in the coming years if projects under construction this year are completed.
Montréal will open the new REM automated heavy rail system in phases, roughly doubling the scale of its current metro network and creating new transit links throughout the metropolitan area.
Thanks to referenda passed in 2016, both Los Angeles and Seattle will open large new extensions to their rail networks. In L.A., a new subway line will open to the west side, making travel to UCLA far less burdensome, and a light-rail subway downtown will allow commuters to travel from the west to the east side of the region without having to change trains. In Seattle, meanwhile, new light-rail extensions will open south, east, and north of the existing route, creating a regional transit network out of what is now a relatively limited service.
And in New York, the opening of the East Side Access project—which will bring Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal—and the Penn Station Access project—which will bring Metro-North trains to Penn Station—will radically improve the accessibility of the region’s central business district. The two projects will make it possible for people commuting from Connecticut and Long Island to have direct access to both the east and west sides of Manhattan’s central business district, saving hundreds of thousands of people each up to an hour a day in travel time.
In addition, Vancouver is expected to complete the first phase of its subway underneath Broadway—now the heaviest-used bus corridor in North America. Honolulu will complete its rail project. Boston will expand its urban rail transit system for the first time since the 1980s. San Francisco will get a new subway downtown for light-rail trains. And Washington will get the U.S.’ first true circumferential transit line with the Purple Line light-rail project.
Transit projects expected to open in 2021
- Streetcar: Charlotte CityLynx Gold Line Phase 2 ; Milwaukee Lakefront Line ; Tempe Streetcar
- Light rail: Boston Green Line Extension ; Edmonton Valley Line Phase 1 ; Monterrey Linea 3 ; San Diego Mid-Coast Corridor LRT ; San Francisco Bay Area Central Subway ; Seattle Northgate Link ; Toronto Line 5 Eglinton
- Metro rail: Mexico Linea 12 Extension ; Montréal REM Central and South Shore Branch
- Commuter rail: Philadelphia Media/Elwyn Extension to Wawa
- Bus rapid transit: Milwaukee East-West BRT ; Minneapolis Orange Line ; Reno Virginia Street BRT ; San Francisco Bay Area Geary BRT ; San Francisco Bay Area Van Ness BRT ; Seattle RapidRide H
- Arterial rapid transit: Chicago Pace Pulse Dempster ; Minneapolis D Line BRT
Transit projects expected to open in 2022
- Streetcar: Orange County OC Streetcar
- Light rail: Los Angeles Regional Connector ; New York (Jersey City) Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Extension ; Ottawa Trillium Line South ; Sacramento H Street Light Rail Alignment ; Seattle Tacoma Link Extension
- Metro rail: Honolulu Rail Transit Phase 2 ; Montréal REM Deux-Montagnes and Airport Branch
- Regional rail: Dallas Silver Line ; San Bernardino Arrow Redlands ; San Francisco Bay Area SMART Train Phase 2 North ;
- Commuter rail: Mexico Tren Interurbano de Pasajeros ; Monterey County Rail Extension ; New York Long Island Rail Road East Side Access
- Bus rapid transit: Chapel Hill North-South BRT ; Montréal SRB Pie-IX ; Portland Division BRT ; Seattle RapidRide G ; Spokane Central City Line
Trans it projects expected to open in 2023
- Light rail: Minneapolis Southwest Corridor ; Seattle East Link Blue Line ; Toronto Line 6 Finch LRT ; Washington Purple Line
- Metro rail: Los Angeles Airport Connector ; Los Angeles Purple Line Extension Phase 1 ; Montréal REM Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Branch
- Commuter rail: Boston South Coast Rail Phase 1 ; New York Metro-North Penn Station Access
- Bus rapid transit: Portland (Vancouver WA) The Vine Mill Plain ; Saskatoon BRT
Transit projects expected to open in 2024
- Light rail: Ottawa Confederation Line East ; Phoenix Northwest Phase 2 ; Phoenix South Central ; Seattle Federal Way Link ; Seattle Lynnwood Link ; Seattle Redmond Link ; Toronto Hurontario LRT
Transit projects expected to open in 2025
- Streetcar: Seattle Central City Connector
- Light rail: Los Angeles Foothill Gold Line Extension to Pomona ; Ottawa Confederation Line West ; San Jose Eastridge to BART LRT
- Metro rail: Los Angeles Purple Line Extension Phase 2 ; Vancouver Broadway Subway to Arbutus
Transit projects expected to open in 2026
Despite the massive investments planned throughout North America in the coming years, cities throughout the U.S. and Canada should be investing considerably more in improved transit—especially through better buses. These countries continue to under-allocate street space for buses compared to much of the rest of the developed world, and the result is that most cities are failing to take advantage of the lowest-cost mechanism to improve public transportation options and reduce automobile dependency.
We can only hope that, as we move into the 2020s, more cities will learn from New York’s success on 14th Street and find the political means and financial capacity to dedicate more space on their streets to people, rather than to cars.
Image at top: Based on “Public Roads of the contiguous United States,” by WClarke (CC BY-SA 4.0).