OKC receives $14.3 million grant for bus rapid transit
Last month, Sen. Jim Inhofe announced that Oklahoma City is a recipient of a $14.3 million federal BUILD grant to implement bus rapid transit (BRT) along Northwest Expressway and North Classen Boulevard. The funds will help connect businesses and residents near the eight-mile segment to the core of Oklahoma City, including other EMBARK routes and the newly opened Oklahoma City Streetcar.
BRT is a fast, comfortable and cost-effective bus-based transit system operating in many major metro areas. By using a dedicated lane and features similar to light rail or metro systems, it can be more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus services with technologies like traffic signal priority and off-bus fare payment.
According to Inhofe’s letter of recommendation to Elaine Chao, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the BRT project will include multiple stations and expanded infrastructure to increase access between employment centers, neighborhoods, retail areas, medical facilities and more. The proposed BRT corridor includes parts of four Oklahoma City wards and touches about 120,000 jobs and around 75,000 residents. The project also marks a growing emphasis on and investment in public transit from both residents and city officials alike. Since the 2014 fiscal year, EMBARK has seen a 20 percent increase in total bus system revenue hours, or the time in which a vehicle is available to carry passengers. Residents also recently approved $20 million in transit capital improvements as part of the Better Streets, Safer Oklahoma City general obligation bond package. According to Inhofe, the BRT project continues in the spirit of those commitments.
The grant will receive matching funds from the City of Oklahoma City from bonds and sales tax proceeds that have already been approved by voters. While the project is still in the planning stages, service could begin in 2023. The announcement is also a major win for ongoing transit improvements in Oklahoma City, which has already seen the grand opening of its streetcar line and additional investments in its bus service. The awarded BUILD funding will make BRT the City’s third major transit facility investment in the past five years.
“Coming on the heels of our streetcar and the addition of Sunday bus service, this BRT grant solidifies 2018 as the best year for OKC transit in modern memory,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said. “This is a major grant and a major achievement for Oklahoma City.”
The addition of BRT in Oklahoma City was one suggestion of the 2005 COTPA Fixed Guideway Study, a plan for updates to Oklahoma City’s transit options. The study recommended an improved bus system, a downtown Oklahoma City streetcar system, commuter rail and BRT to help meet the projected needs of Oklahoma City by the year 2030.
Other transit updates
The concept of a downtown streetcar outlined in the Fixed Guideway Study called for frequent, direct service between Oklahoma City’s central business district, the convention center, Bricktown and SSM Health St. Anthony’s medical center. The modern realization of that plan officially opened on Dec. 14, when hundreds of Oklahoma City residents gathered for the ribbon cutting and subsequent weekend of inaugural rides. In addition to the areas highlighted above, the streetcar also connects to Scissortail Park and the MAPS 3 Convention Center, both of which are currently under construction.