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Biden budget recommends $138 million for Chapel Hill's North-South Bus Rapid Transit project

20231213_Skvoretz_File-bus-stop.jpg
A Go Triangle bus stopped near the Student Stores on South Road on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

On March 11, President Joe Biden recommended in his fiscal year 2025 budget that the federal government provide $138.3 million to build the planned North-South Bus Rapid Transit route along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, connecting Eubanks Road to Southern Village

Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield said the project — which has been in the works for over a decade — will feature dedicated bus lanes, intersection improvements and a multi-use path and sidewalks along the corridor. The corridor, one of the busiest in Chapel Hill, is currently primarily serviced by Chapel Hill Transit's NS route.

The Town will not officially receive funding unless Congress approves and appropriates it, but being in the president’s budget is a critical first step, Litchfield said. If the project is featured in the next congressional budget, construction could start as early as 2026 and be completed by 2029.

Sarah Threewits, a UNC student whose primary source of transportation to and from UNC's campus is the NS route, said that while the route is convenient for her specifically, it is not always the most reliable and it can be incredibly crowded.

In addition to serving a lot of customers, such a busy corridor is also heavily utilized for pedestrian transport, leaving a critical need for improved bicycle and pedestrian access, Litchfield said.

“It's going to remake and revitalize an existing transportation corridor that's important to the town and the University,” he said. “And it's a corridor today that, again, while it sees a lot of transit use and a lot of driving in personal vehicles, it's not an incredibly safe corridor for folks that are biking, walking or doing other things.”

Bus rapid transit systems exist across the country, from Charlotte to Jacksonville, Florida, to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Carrboro resident Melody Kramer said she heard about a bus rapid transit line being implemented in Richmond, Va., in the last decade, so she was glad Chapel Hill was looking to replicate its success.

“I also love the idea for my kids,” she said. “You know, people don't get their driver's licenses until high school, and there's a lot of one-car households in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and being able to say to your kids, 'You have a little bit more freedom because you can hop on a rapid transit line and get to campus, and it's free, and it'll be well-lit and clean and safe,' that's really ideal.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Jess Anderson said this project would make Chapel Hill one of the smallest places in the country with a bus rapid transit line, and would be important in tackling the Town’s equity, affordability, climate, housing and transit goals.

“As part of our Complete Community vision for the community, it's a huge piece of making sure that people have easy access to bike, [pedestrian] and transit — getting people out of their cars is really so important as we grow and densify,” she said.

Litchfield said the corridor is a priority in looking at potential for development, and this project would give an opportunity to add more development in the future, supporting affordable housing.

Ensuring people can get out of their cars and onto bikes and buses will allow the town to densify and add the units needed to house those who are currently not able to be a part of the community, Anderson said.

“This is a really big deal for us,” she said. “It's exciting to be such a small place and have this huge opportunity, but it's also really, really important for our vision for how we grow and change into the future.” 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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