Raleigh gets a federal boost for a transit project that has gotten more expensive

·3 min read

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 previously 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 that construction would get underway by early this year.

Now that the grant has officially been awarded, the city says it expects to spend $96.75 million building the 5.1-mile BRT line from downtown east to New Hope Road. The city is finishing design work and acquiring right of way and now expects to break ground next summer, said spokeswoman Andrea Epstein.

Construction is expected to take two years, with service starting in June 2025.

The design and engineering work and environmental studies have taken longer than expected, Epstein said. Meanwhile, rising costs for fuel, labor, materials and land have pushed up the expected cost, and the city is building in a “healthy conservative contingency” assuming those increases will continue, she said.

Inflation has driven up construction costs across the country. The N.C. Department of Transportation has delayed numerous road projects in coming years in part because of 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 materials costs. The department 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 amenities of a light rail system with the lower cost and flexibility of buses. Passengers buy tickets in advance and board from covered, elevated platforms. The New Bern Avenue buses will get priority signals at intersections and 3.3 miles of dedicated lanes to help avoid getting slowed by traffic.

The project will include 19 platforms between GoRaleigh Station downtown and a planned park-and-ride lot east of the Beltline 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 the Wake County Transit Plan, which voters endorsed in 2016 when they approved a half-cent sales tax for transit. 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 Triangle’s two Democratic members of Congress, David Price and Deborah Ross, announced the $35 million grant Thursday.

“Wake County is a powerful economic engine for our state and region, and we need reliable, efficient transportation options to match our continuing 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 alike.”

The three other planned BRT lines would radiate from downtown Raleigh to the north, west and south. Next up will be the Western Boulevard BRT line between Raleigh and downtown Cary, which is still in the planning stages.