Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Lowcountry Rapid Transit. Have further queries? Email them here.
What is Lowcountry Rapid Transit: Lowcountry Rapid Transit is a modern, rubber-tire transportation system that operates like conventional rail – in dedicated, separated lanes and with the added flexibility to work in mixed traffic.
The proposed project, in short, is “light rail on wheels” – a safe and reliable service complete with express-style priority at intersections, pre-payment kiosks and stations servicing major activity centers such as retail hubs, hospitals, park-and-ride lots and apartments.
Why do we need Lowcountry Rapid Transit: The goal of the Lowcountry Rapid Transit service is to enhance regional mobility in the 22-mile Interstate 26 Corridor that connects Summerville, North Charleston and Charleston.
How much would Lowcountry Rapid Transit cost and how would we pay for it: In November 2016, Charleston County voters passed a half-cent sales tax referendum to fund roadway, transit and greenspace projects. Part of the transit funding identified in that referendum – about $250 million – will be used to apply for matching federal grants. Estimated construction cost for the project is $360 million.
Why not build a light rail system? The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, in its role as the region’s planning agency, conducted a 15-month study called i-26 ALT that identified bus rapid transit (BRT) as the best tool to improve transit service and enhance mobility along the Interstate 26 Corridor between downtown Summerville, North Charleston and downtown Charleston.
The study – a federal must-have to get any sort of project moving – recommended a BRT line along U.S. 78/U.S. 52 (essentially the Rivers Avenue median) to move forward into planning and design. A light rail option, it should be noted, would cost about seven times as much as the $360 million projected cost of BRT.
Are there similar projects in operation?: Yes!A number of cities in the United States – and many more worldwide – have implemented systems similar to the proposed Lowcountry Rapid Transit.
EMX, Eugene, Ore.: BRT vehicles are stylized, conventional or articulated buses that carry 40 to 85 passengers with low floors, level boarding and wide doors on both sides. Fares are collected off-vehicle before boarding.
sbX, San Bernardino, Calif.: BRT stations are spaced up to 2 miles apart with safe and secure structures for weather protection, passenger amenities and system information. Stations are branded and integrate with the surrounding community.
MAX, Las Vegas, Nev.: BRT has a unique identity from the local bus service. Service fast and frequent with limited stops.
Flatiron Flyer, Boulder, Colo.: 18 miles of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service between Downtown Denver and Boulder
Lymmo, Orlando, Fla.: BRT can operate in mixed traffic or exclusive bus lanes. The vehicles use intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to control traffic signals at intersections.
Has a route been finalized? Currently the planned service originates in Summerville and ends in downtown Charleston at Line Street. The plan calls for 18 stations with park-and-ride lots, transit hubs and neighborhood stops serving major activity centers such as Summerville town hall, Trident Health/Charleston Southern University, Northwoods Mall, the North Charleston Intermodal Center and Charleston’s Upper Peninsula.
However, nothing will be finalized until a consultant is hired, environment studies are completed and engineering design gets underway.
When will construction start and when will the project be complete: Starting in early 2018, a federally mandated two-year environmental review of the entire alignment will be conducted under stringent requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Preliminary engineering needed to refine the work scope and schedule – and identify opportunities to expedite the overall process – will be simultaneously undertaken.
Construction is projected to begin in 2023. However, once the NEPA process and preliminary engineering are finished, it may become apparent that the pathway to BRT completion is much shorter than estimated 2025 open date.
Why can’t we get started right away? It’s not something anyone sitting in traffic wants to hear, but without following protocol, BRT stands no chance of becoming a reality. Quite simply, the next two years are a critical first step toward implementing Lowcountry Rapid Transit. And when the time comes, nothing happens without NEPA approval.
What are the next steps? BCDCOG is currently working with federal agencies to determine the level of environmental study needed for the project, as well as identifying funding and mapping out the project development schedule.
In early 2018, BCDCOG will request entry into the Federal Transit Administrations Capital Investment Grant program. Upon approval, NEPA review and preliminary engineering will begin.
Further milestones include:
2018 – 2022 (Capital Investment Grant Program):
Adopt locally preferred alternative
Complete 30% engineering and design
Medium Rating for project justification and financial commitment criteria
Significant progress with engineering
Recommendation for construction grant agreement
2023 – 2025:
What is the Lowcountry Rapid Transit Advocacy Committee: The Lowcountry Rapid Transit Advocacy Committee is a volunteer group of private-sector business leaders committed to promoting regional rapid and mass transit, building partnerships in the community and educating the public and stakeholders.