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BOCO gathering feedback on faster bus service alternatives

 

December 13, 2018

Vicky Dorvee

Boulder County Transportation employees, Scott McCarey and Alex Hyde-Wright, discussed alternatives for Bus Rapid Transit solutions between Boulder and Longmont and described a proposed idea under consideration which would relocate the bus stop on Highway 119 and Niwot Road, north to Second Avenue

Just over 20 years from now, already congested traffic conditions are expected to increase by 25 percent along Highway 119 (the Diagonal.) According to RTD’s website statistics, 45,000 cars, buses, trucks, and bikes use sections of Highway 119 on a daily basis. By the year 2040, some 56,000 vehicles will be a realistic number.

Acknowledging the current aggravation of traveling along the corridor and wanting to prevent worsening conditions, the Boulder County Transportation Department and the Regional Transportation Department (RTD) are studying a variety of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternatives.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, Niwot’s Left Hand Grange was the location for the first of four planned public forums. Boulder County Transportation Department officials Scott McCarey and Alex Hyde-Wright presented options currently under consideration and entertained comments and inquiries from the audience of approximately 50 people.

Suggested alternatives

They introduced the two components of the decisions being made: operations - what routes, stops, and frequency of run times are being considered, and physical infrastructure - what parts of the road will buses operate and where will parking and platforms be.

RTD’s present options for commuters are two routes between north Longmont and downtown Boulder with 55-60 stops each way. During peak times (6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), buses run every 15 minutes, and every 30 to 60 minutes other times. Present ridership numbers are 1,500 people per weekday. With this current configuration, during rush hours the full trip can take 66 minutes to complete.

Alternatives being explored to accommodate more riders and to streamline the trip include: an “Extended” option which amps up the present schedule to run every 30 minutes outside of peak times and increases riders to 2,160 each weekday. Option A, dubbed 1 BRT, brings the number of stops to just 10 locations. Option B, termed 2 BRT, has two routes which run every 15 and 30 minutes. Option C, called 4 BRT, is a combination of four routes each running every 30 minutes. Options A, B, and C would significantly improve travel time to 40 minutes and trim the number of stops down to no more than 13. Option A is estimated to bring ridership to 2,000 people per weekday, Option B to 2,250, and Option C to 2,780 riders each weekday.

Where the buses will travel - either using an outside shoulder, inside managed lanes (a high occupancy vehicle lane) or being able to jump the queue at stoplights - is a huge consideration. How to share the road with bicyclists and what types of buses will be used are just a couple of other factors requiring discussion.

Big change to Niwot’s bus stop?

The idea that would have the biggest impact on Niwot is the possibility of moving the bus stop platforms and parking area from the corner of Highway 119 and Niwot Road north to Second Avenue. A stated upside of the new location is a “stronger connection to the downtown area” providing more access to small businesses without the need for more parking spots. An underpass, or push button activated lights would need to be installed for pedestrians to cross Highway 119.

A Murray Street resident inquired about whether the property intended to be used as a parking lot acquired by Niwot’s LID across from their homes might not be needed in that case, and encouraged communication between the county and the LID committee as the idea progresses. An audience member asked for a show of hands regarding a Highway 119-Second Avenue bus facility and parking lot. Two thirds of the participants showed support for the idea.

Next steps

“We don’t have most of the money to do any of what we’re showing you,” McCarey said, “but we need a vision to try to figure out how to solve our regional transportation problems so we’re still going forward.”

Had Proposition 110 been voted in at midterm elections, McCarey said, “pretty much anything we wanted to do could have been done. But now we don’t want to over promise to the community. But, I have found in my career that money comes to plans faster than plans come to the money.”

Barring securing funds in advance, charging usage tolls may be a way to pay for construction. McCarey also said changes could be phased in. For instance, putting in a queue bypass lane at the bottlenecked intersection of Highway 52 and Highway 119 could be addressed early on.

McCarey said the county is still committed to the FasTracks heavy rail, but RTD acknowledges that funding for the project will not available until the mid-2040s. The BRT solution is considered “a viable interim solution.” Tax dollars being collected for the FasTracks system are not being co-mingled with the BRT project.

According to the BRT project’s website, the timeline calls for preferred plans to be selected by the second quarter of 2019, funding to be acquired in 2020, and construction is slated to begin in 2023.

The next round of public meetings will be held is from 5:30 p.m.to 7:30 pm., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Boulder County Commissioners’ Hearing Room, (1325 Pearl Street, Boulder), Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the Longmont Library, (409 4th Avenue, Longmont), and on Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Left Hand Grange (195 2nd Avenue, Niwot). To learn more and to comment on the proposed plans, visit www.sh119brt.com.

 

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