Central Ohio Transit Authority officials will proceed with the next phase of a rapid transit bus line on the Northeast Side.

Central Ohio Transit Authority officials will proceed with the next phase of a rapid transit bus line on the Northeast Side

COTA has received approval from the Federal Transit Administration to move the proposed Northeast Corridor Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, into the project development phase.

The transit authority soon will begin an engineering and environmental study on the 15.6-mile line, which will run along Cleveland Avenue from downtown to a station just east of the Polaris area.

"The next step after that is to await notification of whether we got the grant," said Brian Hoyt, spokesman for COTA.

The line, the first of its kind in central Ohio, would offer improved service, limited stops, faster travel times and other enhancements in the high-capacity corridor.

The project would include 13 new low-floor compressed natural gas buses, and special branding of vehicles and stations.

The estimated cost of the project is $39.43 million, with the hope that 80 percent of the funding would come from the federal government and the remainder would be paid with local dollars.

The goal is to have it functioning by 2016.

Current ridership has to be greater than 3,000 per weekday to meet FTA requirements as a bus rapid corridor.

COTA projects 6,600 average weekday trips, meaning it will be available to 6,600 passengers, in the first year, said Mike McCann, project manager for COTA.

"That's pretty big," McCann said.

Ridership along the No. 1, Cleveland Avenue, route is the second-highest in the system and growing, Hoyt said.

Increased service frequency and faster speeds would reduce current travel times by up to 20 percent, he said.

The BRT would provide transportation to major population centers such as Columbus State Community College, retail destinations including Northern Lights shopping center and major medical providers and Mt. Carmel St. Ann's Hospital and OhioHealth Medical Center.

"The other thing is this corridor has a high percentage of zero-car households so it's a very transit-dependent corridor," said Mike Bradley, director of capital projects and planning.

In 2010, the transit authority was awarded a $300,000 grant from the FTA to study alternatives along the Cleveland Avenue corridor.

Delays in moving the project forward are attributed to battles over sequestration and the debt ceiling, Bradley said.