Raleigh Receives Federal Grant for New Bern Avenue BRT Line
The city of Raleigh has received a $35 million federal grant to help build its first bus rapid transit line, which will cost more and take longer to build than expected.
The federal government first earmarked the money for the New Bern Avenue BRT line in late 2020. At the time, the city estimated the project would cost $71.5 million and construction would begin in early This year.
Now that the grant has been officially awarded, the city says it plans to spend $96.75 million building the 5.1-mile BRT line from downtown to east of New Hope Road. The city is completing design work and acquiring the right-of-way and now expects to break ground next summer, spokeswoman Andrea Epstein said.
Construction is expected to take two years, with commissioning beginning in June 2025.
Design and engineering work and environmental studies took longer than expected, Epstein said. Meanwhile, rising costs for fuel, labor, materials and land have pushed up the projected cost, and the city is building a “healthy conservative contingency” assuming those increases will continue, a she declared.
Inflation has pushed up construction costs across the country. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has delayed many highway projects in the coming years, in part due to rising costs. The General Assembly included a “cost escalation” provision in this year’s state budget that allows NCDOT to adjust existing contracts to account for higher material costs. The ministry expects to pay contractors an additional $135 million as a result.
First of four planned bus rapid transit lines
The New Bern Avenue BRT line will be a first for the Triangle. Bus rapid transit combines some of the conveniences of a light rail system with the lower cost and flexibility of buses. Passengers purchase tickets in advance and board from covered, elevated platforms. New Bern Avenue buses will receive priority signals at intersections and 3.3 miles of dedicated lanes to avoid being slowed down by traffic.
The project will include 19 platforms between downtown GoRaleigh station and a planned park and ride east of the ring line and seven new BRT-style buses with lower floors and doors on both sides .
The New Bern BRT line is the first of four proposed under Wake County’s transit plan, which voters approved in 2016 when they approved a half-cent sales tax for transportation in common. Money from that tax is expected to pay for about half of the project, with the rest coming from the federal government, Epstein said.
The two Democratic Triangle members of Congress, David Price and Deborah Ross, announced the $35 million grant on Thursday.
“Wake County is a powerful economic engine for our state and region, and we need reliable and efficient transportation options to support our continued growth,” Ross said in a written statement. “This project will be a game-changer for our community, modernizing public transit and benefiting residents, visitors and businesses.”
The other three planned BRT lines would radiate from downtown Raleigh to the north, west and south. The next stop will be the Western Boulevard BRT line between Raleigh and downtown Cary, which is still in the planning stage.