Construction for Bus Rapid Transit, or B-R-T, is officially underway.
In an informational meeting on Tuesday, Transit officials outlined the plans for the next year of construction for the first BRT line, which will eventually run in a fifteen-mile stretch from one side of the city to the other, using dedicated bus lanes, through the heart of Madison.
According to Mike Cechvala, the deputy project manager, the first route will run east to west, and be known as the “Red Line.”
Cechvala explained, “What we will be constructing is this red line going from west to east, between Junction Road and East Springs/East Towne area, through University Avenue, downtown area, and E. Washington.”
Bus Rapid Transit officially broke ground in December, at the construction staging ground on East Washington Avenue just off Capitol Square. The first phase of the project to bring buses every fifteen minutes with limited stops comes in at a cost of $160 million, two-thirds of which is funded by a federal transportation grant. About one-third is funded by the city.
The construction of bus stations is starting on the west side. Planners are leaving the furthest west terminal on Junction Road untouched for now. Earlier this month, crews kicked off construction at the intersection of Sheboygan Avenue and Eau Claire Avenue, just off University Avenue in the Hill Farms neighborhood.
Cechvala tells W-O-R-T to plan around detours that are already in effect, “Generally, we have Sheboygan Avenue closed just east of Eau Claire Avenue to construct the new station on Sheboygan at Eau Claire and so Routes 228 and 8 are detoured in that area. We also have ongoing construction on East Washington Avenue that’s been going on over the winter, but there should be no significant changes to bus services on East Washington. We do have a couple temporary stops that are in temporary places and things like that but buses are operating normally.”
Major construction of each of the forty-four bus stations on the Red Line route will take two to three months. When one is done, crews will move on to the next, moving from the west side to the east side to build the infrastructure for the first phase of B-R-T.
All stations for the east-west line are expected to be built by mid-2024. Then, stations will be outfitted with heaters, along with new fare collection machines which accept cash, credit, or debit. Full east-west service is then expected to launch in late 2024.
Transit officials expect to start planning for the second phase of B-R-T – a north-south line – this year. Cechvala says they’re hesitant to announce a timeline for completion of that line just yet.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has continually touted B-R-T, saying it’s a change necessary to accommodate Madison’s growing population and reducing congestion as the city’s expected to gain 70,000 residents by 2040. She’s also pointed to the importance of fast and reliable transit options as city residents increasingly struggle to find affordable housing close to where they work.
But her challenger Gloria Reyes has pushed back on B-R-T, criticizing its cost as the city’s debt load ratchets up. She’s also criticized the closely-related Network Redesign project to overhaul the entire network of bus service across the city. She says the changes weren’t equitable, and the community wasn’t fully engaged in getting feedback for the changes.
The issue has remained a focal point at at least three community forums just this week, as the conversation occasionally became heated.
Opponents have echoed those concerns, including the decision to prioritize the east to west route over the north to south route. Cechvala said this decision was based on ridership. More than 120,000 jobs and 80,000 residents are within a 10 minute walk of this route.
According to Cechvala, “The basic reason is that we have a lot of very high ridership along this corridor.”
The next informational meeting will take place on Thursday, April 6th at 6 pm, focusing on the east segment of the Red Line. An additional meeting to outline the downtown segment of the line has yet to be scheduled.