If all goes as planned, the Central Ohio Transit Authority will introduce Bus Rapid Transit service to the busy Cleveland Avenue corridor between downtown and state Route 161 in September 2017.
Michael J. McCann, a senior planner with COTA, and Matt Selhorst, transportation planning manager in the Columbus office of HDR Engineering Inc., a consultant on the nearly $40-million project, provided an update on progress at the June 10 quarterly luncheon of the Northland Area Business Association.
NABA President Dave Cooper sits on a stakeholders committee for the BRT process.
"COTA's very excited to tell you about a project we've been working on the last few years," McCann said.
BRT, which has met with great success in Cleveland and elsewhere around the country, is a much less costly alternative to light rail and offers many of the same benefits, the senior planner told business association members.
BRT is a "toolkit" of approaches to moving passengers more quickly, according to McCann. These tools include dedicated bus lanes during peak hours in some instances, although that approach won't be taken on the proposed Cleveland Avenue BRT.
Other aspects of speeded-up transit include fewer stops and providing drivers the ability to extend green lights or shorten red ones at intersections, McCann said.
In the case of the Cleveland Avenue line, COTA officials expect to cut travel time along the busy route by 20 percent while increasing ridership by anywhere from 15 to 20 percent, he added.
Once BRT is launched, buses would arrive at the 62 proposed stations, not stops, every 10 minutes during peak travel hours, every 15 minutes the rest of the time, McCann said. The service would operate 16 hours a day Monday through Saturday, 14 hours on Sundays.
Technically, BRT would only stretch between downtown and state Route 161, McCann said, but at the urging of residents, an enhanced transit service would extend to Mount Carmel St. Ann's Hospital in Westerville.
The fare would be the same as whatever is in place in fall 2017 for the existing normal Cleveland Avenue service, which will continue to operate but on a less frequent schedule, McCann indicated.
The planning process dates back to November 2010 when COTA received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to study various alternatives for the Cleveland Avenue line, the second-busiest in the system behind the No. 2 bus that travels along North High Street.
The project, which COTA officials hope receives 80 percent of its funding from federal sources, would involve the purchase of 13 new vehicles, repaving a portion of Cleveland Avenue between Westerville and East Dublin-Granville roads, the construction of the new stations and the addition of new transit centers at the Northern Lights Shopping Center and either the Columbus Square Shopping Center or Meijer store in the Northland Plaza.
"It's not guaranteed 80 percent," McCann cautioned. "We feel confident."
Right of way may have to be purchased in some locations, according to Selhorst, to accommodate the larger BRT stations, which will include tall pylons where fares may be purchased and which will offer real-time information on when the next bus is scheduled to arrive.
"One of the biggest challenges is right of way," McCann said.
Public art will be incorporated into the BRT stations as part of the final design process, along with specific "branding" that includes a name and color scheme for the new BRT line, according to Selhorst. The brand should be announced in August, he added.
"We're trying to provide as much feedback and interaction as we can to make this go smoothly," Selhorst said.
Another in an ongoing series of public meetings to keep residents apprised of the project's progress is scheduled for Tuesday, July 15, at CrossRoads Baptist Church, 5075 Cleveland Ave. Another is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 14, at the office of the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, 880 E. 11th Ave.
The Cleveland Avenue BRT service may be only the first of several in Columbus, according to McCann. He specifically mentioned Broad Street, Livingston Avenue and Main Street as future possibilities.
More information about the overall BRT project and process is available at www.cotabrt.com.