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Bus Rapid Transit

A proposed bus rapid transit system, which now has estimated costs of about $120 million to $130 million, would use 60-passenger buses like the one shown above.

At a public meeting Thursday, the city of Madison gave more definitive cost estimates for the various Bus Rapid Transit options and how much the speedier bus service would cut travel times for passengers.

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is a high-frequency, high-capacity, limited-stop service that would connect east and west Madison, and run on streets and some dedicated bus lanes. The city is working on a plan to implement BRT, with hopes to apply for federal grant funding by fall of 2020 and have the system fully operational by 2024.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said BRT is needed to meet the traffic demands of Madison as the city grows. In the last five years, the number of daily trips taken in Madison increased by 180,000.

“We can’t do this in cars,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We have to do this in transit. We have no other choice.”

The options outlined at Thursday’s meeting have an estimated price tag of about $120 million to $130 million for the initial cost of building the project. In May, that estimate for initial capital costs was at $80 million to $100 million. Up to $100 million of that could come from federal grant money.

Once in place, the system would cost about $3.5 million annually to run, said Dan Meyers, a representative of AECOM, a consulting firm that is helping the city on the project.

Right now, the city has most of the route for the system selected, but is deciding between two route options for west Madison, and three options for Downtown. About 70 people attended the meeting, and each were invited to vote on which option they preferred.

For the West Side, the main difference in the routes is one would use Mineral Point Road, while the other would use Odana Road.

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In Madison’s “locally preferred alternative” — the option the city is working to develop to meet Madison’s unique needs — the Mineral Point option would cost an estimated $117 million, while the Odana Road option would cost an estimated $123 million.

But the Odana Road option would serve more people. A Mineral Point BRT route would have an estimated daily ridership of 11,700, while an Odana Road BRT route would serve roughly 13,600 people a day.

In terms of travel times, it would take about 55 minutes to travel the east-west route along Mineral Point Road, and about 59 minutes to travel from east to west Madison along the Odana Road route. That is about 13 to 14 minutes faster than a BRT bus that’s mixed in with traffic and has no dedicated lanes or traffic signals that would allow BRT buses to skip other cars.

For Downtown, the three options include one that would run along State Street and around Capitol Square. That would require some Metro buses to be diverted to a different route and having BRT buses on at least part of the Square during the Dane County Farmers’ Market and another 70-plus annual events.

The other two options would use streets south of State Street, and a block or more away from the Capitol, but would require modifications to those streets, including removing 110 parking spots.

One option would be to make Broom Street a two-way street, and have the buses use that. The other would use both Broom and Henry streets. Both options would use Wilson and Doty streets.

As of right now, the city is still deciding which options would work best for commuters’ needs. The next public meeting will be in October.

“I feel very strongly that Bus Rapid Transit is the future for Madison,” Rhodes-Conway said. “The only question is how?”

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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.