Bus rapid transit is an option some public transportation agencies are utilizing. It has a number of features meant to speed up the process of using a bus. These include having passengers pay their fare prior to boarding, taking bicycles on board instead of being attached to a rack in front of the bus and a flat platform that speeds boarding for those with strollers or in wheelchairs. Traffic signals can be notified of the approach of a bus and adjust lights accordingly. And this system generally has three stops per mile, far less than what the current route 1 has along Pacific Avenue.
That route currently connects Tacoma Community College with downtown and Spanaway. A proposal under consideration would have bus rapid transit replace the part of the route between downtown and Spanaway. Alexandra Mather, government and community relations officer with Pierce Transit, and Ryan Wheaton, executive director of planning and community development, provided an update to Tacoma City Council on June 19.
The route under consideration would shift from Pacific Avenue to Market Street in downtown. It would also head over to Tacoma Dome Station. The remainder of the route would stay as it is along Pacific south to the Wal-Mart store on Mountain Highway in Spanaway.
Bus rapid transit can have stops along the curb, or down the median, such as the light rail stop on Pacific Avenue at the University of Washington-Tacoma campus. The curbside alternative calls for 10.2 miles in mixed traffic, at a cost of $5.1 million per mile. Another 4.2 miles would be in a lane for busses, with cars allowed in to make right turns. This would cost $14 million per mile.
The median alternative has 8.8 miles in mixed traffic at $6.6 million per mile. A 1.6-mile segment would be for busses and turning cars, at $14 million per mile. Another four miles would be a lane exclusively for the bus, at $11.8 million per mile.
There is $60 million available from a voter approved Sound Transit measure. Another $15 million is saved for this project. Together, these would cover about half of the cost. More money could come from a Small Starts Grant from the Federal Transit Administration. An application for that grant will be submitted in September.
Councilmember Catherine Ushka said some of her constituents have claimed this new system would result in existing buildings being torn down to make way for new stops. Wheaton said this is not the case. “I will continue to clarify that message,” she remarked.
Councilmember Ryan Mello asked about having stops in the median versus curbside. Wheaton noted the difference in costs. He added that stops in the median could be better at spurring new development.
The Pierce Transit Board is scheduled to vote on an alternative on July 9.