Twelve years, $24 million and 4 miles later, Lane Transit District’s (LTD) voyage into the realm of bus rapid transit finally got off the ground on Jan. 14, one month after its originally scheduled opening was delayed because the buses weren’t ready yet. Dubbed Emerald Express, or EmX, the Green Line corridor stretches the 4 miles from downtown Springfield, Ore., to neighboring Eugene, paring down the previous route’s travel time by 38%.
While the EmX debuted at 8:10 that morning, the bus that left Springfield at 11:40 was the one that received VIP treatment. The $960,000, 44-seat, 63-foot articulated bus, which New Flyer Industries manufactured especially for LTD, was jam-packed with riders. Among those enjoying the hybrid-electric ride were U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and FTA Administrator James Simpson. DeFazio, who is the new chairman of the House Surface Transportation Subcommittee, has been a staunch supporter of LTD’s project, helping the district obtain part of the project’s funding from the federal government.
Both officials lauded LTD and the community for developing the project, even though it is one of the smallest areas in the world to embrace BRT.
Despite the project’s opening, LTD is not resting on its laurels, said spokesman Andy Vobora. “The EmX Green Line is an opportunity for people to see how the system could function,” he said. “It’s also a big opportunity for us just to learn from how we designed this first leg, and then apply some of these lessons learned to the second leg.”
LTD’s plans on expansion — first with the 6-mile “Pioneer Parkway” corridor north from Springfield Station, and eventually with a corridor in west Eugene — recently took a step forward. The district’s environmental assessment process on the Pioneer Parkway had a finding of No Significant Impact, which green-lighted the FTA’s go-ahead for the project’s design. The project will be funded in part by the Small Starts program, Vobora said.
One of the lessons LTD has already learned, Vobora said, is how a curved median along the route impacts travel time. The ingress and egress into and out of the stations is taking longer than they had planned because the bus drivers are forced to work around the tree-filled medians. “Literally, if we had taken out a handful more trees, we could have really sped up how quickly we could get in and out of some of the stations,” Vobora said. “If we had worked to realign or remold that median into something new, where the lanes were straight, I think that we would have gained a lot in travel time.”
While the Pioneer Parkway corridor is moving forward, LTD is also considering a kind of BRT-light model for other areas it serves. Dubbed “Bus Plus,” the plan calls for incrementally implementing BRT features into other fixed-route lines to generate some travel time savings. LTD has already purchased signal-priority devices for Bus Plus, and would consider adding other BRT features as time moved on, Vobora said.
If the routes eventually become an EmX corridor, LTD would just have to take the last steps of adding bus ways and transit stations.
“It’s a good concept, and maybe we can do some of these things, but we’ll need to phase them in,” he said. The project, which is still in the planning stage, would not begin until fall 2008 at the earliest, Vobora said.