What's happening at other transit agencies: New Starts edition

The Sacramento is set to receive federal funding for a southern extension of its light rail system. Photo by flickr user El Cobrador.

Transit agencies across the U.S. have been waiting with baited breath to find out if their projects would qualify for New Starts funding from the Federal Transit Administration. If New Starts sounds familiar, it should: it’s the same program through which the Regional Connector and Westside subway are slated to receive a combined $81 million in 2013 — with much more hopefully to come in the following years.

Well the New Starts news is out for the rest of the country too in the form of the FTA’s Annual Report on Funding Recommendations [PDF]. Even though some projects are funded without the Fed’s help — take the Expo Line for example — the list of projects funded through New Starts gives you a pretty good sense of what Washington views as critical transit projects for the country.

As the FTA’s report details, 20-plus projects are currently receiving New Starts funding or are recommended to receive it in the coming year. We’re going to focus here on the major new additions to the federal funding rolls, each of which are in the home stretch of the design and environmental review phase.

All told, these six transit lines are projected cost over $12 billion to build, with the federal government contributing about $750 million in 2013 alone. As you’ll see, California and the Pacific Coast are particularly well-represented among new entries into New Starts. A slew of smaller projects totaling $800 million – all good ones in their own right – are also detailed in the full report. The quick blurbs below are meant for easy consumption; you can find much more detail in full report.

Sacramento, Calif.: South Sacramento Corridor Phase 2

The Sacramento Regional Transit District plans to extend its light rail Blue Line southward 4.3-miles, constructing four stations in a fast-growing portion of the state capitol. Estimates project 10,000 daily riders along the new segment by 2030.

San Francisco, Calif.: Third Street Light Rail Phase 2 – Central Subway

Long a transit dream, the San Francisco Central Subway moves closer to reality thanks to the FTA’s commitment to support construction to the tune of nearly $1 billion over the life of the project. While only 1.7 miles long, the new light rail subway packs a big punch: 35,000 projected daily trips. More to the point, the Central Subway will mean faster and more comfortable trips for those who are currently riding crowded buses — even though they come every two minutes — through the corridor in thick traffic. The line will also improve connections throughout the transit system in San Francisco by more directly linking the Caltrain terminal to Market Street and Chinatown.

San José, Calif.: Silicon Valley Berryessa Extension Project

Transit on the southern end of the Bay Area will get a federal boost in the form of a $900-million grant to support the extension of BART towards San José. The first ten-mile segment will feature only two stations, but 4,800 parking spots — likely an indication that BART is gearing this extension primarily toward commuters. Though the first extension won’t make it all the way into downtown San José — that will require another six miles of track — it will directly connect the BART system to the Santa Clara Valley transit system; and linking the two should make both work better for everyone.

Honolulu, Hawaii.: High Capacity Transit Corridor Project

This 20-mile heavy-rail project is perhaps most notability for one key technological system: fully automated operation. That means the trains can run on their own without drivers, which makes really high frequency service more affordable for the transit agency. And that means shorter wait times at stations, projected to be 3 minutes during rush hour and 6 minutes off-peak. Ridership is expected to hit nearly 120,000 people per day by 2030.

Portland, Ore.: Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project

This 7.3-mile light rail project will extend the MAX Yellow Line from downtown Portland to the town of Milwaukie to the southeast. One key feature will be a new multi-modal bridge over the Willamette River dedicated exclusively to light rail trains, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians. The FTA report notes that “the project will link downtown Portland with regional educational institutions, dense urban neighborhoods, and emerging growth areas in East Portland and Milwaukie.”

Charlotte, N.C.: LYNX Blue Line Extension – Northeast Corridor

As we’ve covered in the past, Charlotte is aggressively expanding transit and this next piece looks to be a good candidate for light rail: It will connect the city’s downtown to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte — two major destinations in the region — via a 9.3-mile rail line featuring 11 stations.