Funding for CHT Bus Rapid Transit included in federal 2025 budget

Red Carpet: dedicated bus lanes in midtown Manhattan. Chapel Hill Transit North-South Bus Rapid Transit will make extensive use of dedicated lanes—photo by Kyle Larivee on Unsplash.


by Gregory DL Morris

This article follows up on Adam Powell’s original article, which was removed last week due to some factual errors. Gregory Morris, who is an expert in writing about transportation issues, is following up on this evolving story.

The future of public transportation in Chapel Hill and Carrboro took a big step closer to reality on March 11 when major funding for Chapel Hill Transit’s (CHT) North-South Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan was among those advanced under the 2025 federal budget.

While there are still several important steps until the check is in hand and shovels are in the ground, the budget inclusion makes the development more likely to happen than not. Construction will begin in 2027, and service will start in 2029 if all goes well.

“Congress needs to approve the entire Budget, and then we need to make the formal grant request,” Caroline Dwyer, CHT’s transit planning manager, told TLR. “We are already doing all the legwork for that, as well as the project planning.”

While acknowledging that nothing is absolutely certain in the Congressional budget process, Dwyer noted that almost all projects recommended by the administration and included in the budget are funded. “We don’t anticipate any problems,” she said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recommended that 14 large transit projects in 11 states receive nearly $4 billion in federal support for construction as part of President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request to Congress. There is some significance to this local project being highlighted on the national stage.

Specifically, $138.3 million has been recommended for the BRT, “which will connect riders to several major activity and job centers, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hospitals, and downtown Chapel Hill, and is intended to improve mobility and accessibility in the corridor’s low-income communities. The project includes 5.7 miles of exclusive bus lanes and stations and the purchase of vehicles,” wrote the Department of Transportation in announcing the projects.

Traffic-signal priority for BRT helps ensure schedule keeping as well as interval between buses. Photo by Elliot Blyth at Unsplash.

The BRT will run eight miles from the Eubanks Park & Ride lot south along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (State Route 86), through the center of Chapel Hill and then along South Columbia St. to the Southern Village Park & Ride. For most of that route, articulated buses will travel in a dedicated lane, serving 17 stations.

Sidewalks and bike paths will be built along the route, making it multimodal and helping to reduce traffic by giving people traveling short distances viable alternatives to cars. Last fall, public meetings held in the two towns received strong local support for the BRT.

Dwyer explained that federal funding will provide 80% of the total project cost. “The total $183 million we have projected includes a 30% contingency. We’ve been very conservative in our budgeting, with that 30% just-in-case already baked in.”

As the federal budget winds its way through Congress, CHT will finalize the local funding and secure detailed agreements with major third parties, including the university, the towns, and utilities. UNC, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro are the three owners of CHT, so no major surprises are anticipated.

“We also have Raleigh as an example,” Dwyer said. They are about two years ahead of us in their BRT plan and should be starting construction very soon. It has been very helpful to observe how they’ve done their budgeting and bidding.”

Dwyer suggested that area residents call or write to their elected officials at the town, county, state, and federal levels to voice their support for the BRT in particular as well as public transportation in general. “It’s a long process, and there are a lot of government agencies involved at all levels. It helps when voters and taxpayers say they want better transit,” Dwyer concluded.

Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.

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