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Friday October 15th

Chapel Hill transit project becomes eligible for $100 million of federal funding

Tammy McNair, Chapel Hill Transit bus driver, drives the T route on Friday May 31, 2019.
Buy Photos Tammy McNair, Chapel Hill Transit bus driver, drives the T route on Friday May 31, 2019.

Chapel Hill Transit recently received a medium rating from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for the North-South Bus Rapid Transit Project (N-S BRT), making the project eligible for about $100 million of federal funding.

“The project has an estimated cost of about $140 million, and projects such as the N-S BRT and other similar projects typically will compete for federal funding to help pay for a percentage of the project,” Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield said. “For our project, we’re looking at, of the $140 million, about $100 million potentially coming from a federal source.”

The NS-BRT project, connecting Eubanks Road Park and Ride to Southern Village Park and Ride, will run 8.2 miles along the corridor, with 15 proposed stations in between. The corridor will also contain bicycle and walking paths, to make traveling the corridor faster and safer for each form of travel.

“It would not replace all local bus services, there’d still be some local bus services in there, but it would basically be the north-south route that operates today but operating with dedicated lanes and higher service frequencies and weekend services, as well,” Litchfield said.

Litchfield said an overall medium rating is required to be considered for federal funding. He said a medley of factors goes into the FTA rating, such as land use in and around the corridor, economic development, plans, policies and performance within the corridor.

Carrboro Town Council Member Damon Seils said Chapel Hill Transit’s lowest individual category rating, a medium-low, is in the land use category.

“So, what they’re doing in giving that rating a medium-low, is they’re telling the Town of Chapel Hill you need to do a little more thinking about how to help make this project successful in this corridor and that means some smarter planning around the station areas,” Seils said.

Litchfield said with $100 million expected to come from the FTA, the other $40 million needed for the project will be from the state and the Orange County Transit Plan.

“The current project budget assumes about $100 million on the federal side, about $35 million from the state," he said. "And again, while those are the amounts that we’ll ask for, those may or may not be the that amounts we receive, and then the remainder would be funded through the Orange County Transit Plan, which has currently committed $14.1 million to the project."

Litchfield said the contribution from the federal and state sides are only estimates, but no funding has been secured on either side. 

He said planning for the project is currently underway. However, he said the estimated time for completion depends largely on the amount of funding received from federal and state funding.

“Best case scenario for BRT is you’re looking at 2024-2025 for implementation," Litchfield said. "And, again, that would be the perfect scenario where all our federal and state funding sources and all those targets lined up perfectly. So that would be an estimated timeline at this point and that would be updated as the project moves through future phases."

Orange County has also redirected resources from a discontinued light rail project to the N-S BRT. 

Steve Abbott, assistant director of communications at the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the NCDOT is not involved in funding at the federal level.

“NCDOT’s only involvement would be once the project becomes reality with possible State Maintenance and Operating funds that come from the General Assembly," he said. “They can be used to support operational expenses, but the project is not even close to that stage yet.”

Seils said the project will have positive effects for all Chapel Hill Transit routes, not just the ones in the corridor.

“The BRT Project will have its own specialized buses and everything that will run along that corridor, which means that the other buses we would currently consider running in the corridor won’t need as many buses as they’re currently using,” he said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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