Reno planning to convert new “BRT” line to streetcar system

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The following is from the Light Rail Now folks.

Reno Nevada, the “World’s Smallest City”, is embarking to convert its recently built Bus Rapid Transit Line to light rail. It seems there are a lot more benefits that spin off a light rail project than BRT and Reno politicos want to see the billions of dollars of investment cash that follow LRT development, invested in Reno’s in the rejuvenation of the downtown core.

A question for those promoting BRT in the METRO region; “If Reno’s BRT is so good, why then are city planners wanting to replace it with LRT in just a few months after opening?

Reno planning to convert new “BRT” line to streetcar system

Reno, Nevada — “BRT”, we hardly knew ye?

It’s only been in service less than a month, but already the city’s new Virgina Street “bus rapid transit” (“BRT”) line is being slated for conversion to streetcar-type light rail transit (LRT) technology.

On October 11th, financed in part by $7.4 million in federal funding, Reno opened a so-called “BRT” operation running articulated buses along a 14-stop route in the Virginia Street corridor, a service already credited with generating a roughly 10% increase in ridership.

However, even before the “BRT” line opened, city officials were already planning to convert the “rapid bus” line to streetcar operation and eventually faster, higher-capacity light rail for economic development reasons, citing the experience of Portland, Oregon as an example.

According to a report in the April 30th Reno Gazette-Journal, John Hester, the city’s economic development director, “says rail systems make private investment happen.”

Citing Hester for its source, Gazette-Journal went on to report that:

 “The Reno City Council approved a plan to convert to street cars and light-rail, making Virginia Street wide enough for bus, street cars, eventually trains and other motor vehicles…. New lots would be required to replace the lost parking.” Street cars, fueled by an overhead electric cable, would travel from central downtown to the university and would be the next phase after buses. The council also wants a new Virginia Street bridge strong enough for rail cars. Eventually, a light rail line would run from the University of Nevada campus to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center….”

Six months later, the streetcar project took a dramatic step forward, according to a Nov. 13th Gazette-Journal report:

Aiming to kick-start a streetcar/light rail project along Virginia Street and rebuild central Reno, local transportation officials Thursday approved spending $200,000 for planning. The Regional Transportation Commission ordered staff update studies needed to get federal money for the $151 million line….

“The $200,000 apparently was redirected into the rail project from funds left over from the “rapid bus” project. The study would Include examining alternatives to the rail project and implementing a new “rapid bus” service on Fourth Street between Reno and the suburb of Sparks “to provide more passengers for the Virginia Street rail line.”

The streetcar project would be implemented in two phases:

Phase 1 – line construction from California Avenue to the University of Nevada, Reno campus, projected to cost $67 million …
Phase 2 – construction from downtown to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, projected to cost $84 million…

In terms of funding ongoing operating costs, the paper notes:

“Fares would be structured to cover a portion of operating and maintenance costs. For the downtown-university link, annual operating costs were estimated at $1.3 million and $3 million for the entire line.”

As the Gazette-Journal reiterates, “The rail system eventually would replace the rapid bus system on Virginia Street…” with several objectives in view, including “to provide a better transit service, reduce traffic congestion and sprawl and encourage a higher density of development down Reno’s main corridor….”

Urban revitalization seems to be a major focus of the interest in LRT- streetcar development. John Hester, identified in the article as Community Development Director, emphasized that the new rail system would “enable urban renewal to take root in rundown sections along Virginia Street.”

Hester again cited the experience of Portland, Oregon’s 2.4-mile streetcar line, which is credited with attracting about 10,000 dwelling units built within two blocks of the line and total new investment exceeding $3.5 billion.

Those are the kinds of things we hope to see happen in our transit corridor” Hester told the newspaper.

Hester said that planning for the streetcar would include extending the rail transit line to Meadowood Mall. Tracks in Virginia Street would be laid within existing right-of-way, with parking removed from some sections of the route, resulting in in real estate cost savings estimated at $100 million.

Apparently, implementation of the Virgina Street “BRT” is being designed for either joint use with the streetcar system, or easy conversion. As the paper notes, citing Hester, “For the rapid bus system, 11 stations are planned to be built starting a year from now and would accommodate the rail system….”

According to Lee Gibson, executive director of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), . local officials hope to obtain some federal funding for the project, but at least half the project costs would need to be covered locally. Federal funding could be available in the next federal transportation bill, but that’s not expected to be considered by Congress until after the 2010 election.

For the streetcar line, the local share could include a city property tax increase of 3.3 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, Hester said. Extending the system to the convention center would require another 9.2 cents in city property taxes. If all the funding pieces came together quickly, Hester said, the first steel for the tracks could be laid in 2012.

Reno’s City Council is now faced with the challenge of deciding if it wants “to ask voters next November for authority from the Nevada Legislature to raise the limit on property taxes to provide money for the rail project” reports the Gazette-Journal.

This could be the scene in Reno in just a few years time.

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8 Responses to “Reno planning to convert new “BRT” line to streetcar system”

  1. News Roundup: Trains, Trains, Trains - Seattle Transit Blog Says:

    […] A good Amtrak ad; ST CEO Joni Earl defers her pay raise; street corners vs. cul-de-sacs; Joe Biden still likes trains; First Hill Streetcar needs an artist; more food carts please; the conservative case for walking and biking; Reno may convert BRT to streetcar. […]

  2. jon Says:

    why do they, when they have a straight as an arrow corridor, have to make the route as complicated as possible… look at downtown, it turns down just about every street, goes into a one-way couplet, crossing over the other direction and so on. just make it a straight shot entirely on virginia street from north to south, both directions. then it is very clear to all riders where it runs.

    this is not just reno, most streetcar systems planned have routes as complicated as this in downtown, but few have a corridor as straight as this.

  3. urbanblog Says:

    Thanks for posting this info. I cover urban policy in the Reno area. First I’d like to help you out with the actual nickname of Reno: “The Biggest Little City in the World” We usually shorten it to “Biggest Little City”

    Reno gets millions of visitors a year, and the corridor being proposed to be expanded to light rail extends from the University of Nevada, Reno to Meadowood Mall. It would go there via 80+% of the city’s hotels and the convention center.

    The corridor jon comments on is the BRT routing, which is via the transit center under construction at 4th and Lake. The trackage will run on Virginia Street only, from the materials I’ve seen thus far.

    Interestingly to your snarky point, the BRT service has yet to be implemented. An express bus called RAPID now operates 10 – 12 minute headways on the Virginia Street Corridor, making limited stops. There is also a local called CONNECT which essentially replicates the old Route 1 which it replaced.

    Station platform design is underway and will be reviewed in public outreach soon in the early design stage and then later in the late design stage, and then construction will occur, this year. Diesel hybrid buses are also on order.

    The BRT is a great thing that is funded from federal dollars, but as you can see from the article you repost, construction of the streetcar and LRT would necessarily entail a tax increase. A very compelling case can be made for such a thing – but if Nevada is reputed for nothing other than its casinos, it is probably for its tax aversion. The BRT will be a welcome improvement and we’re naturally interested in doing what we know is the best thing for that corridor. The improvements are timed to occur closely to improvements to the streetscape along the corridor, which we will all welcome.

  4. Ed A. Williams Says:

    We find it gratifying that there is finally some dialog and initial planning being done regarding a light rail system for Reno.
    While projects like this are not cheap, it will be money worth spent. We DO need a light rail system here and not only just up and down Virginia Street but it also should be expanded to all points of the Reno area.

    I advocate the design and construction of an ELEVATED RAIL SYSTEM using the already existing freeway corridors which would serve the outlying suburban areas Like Spanish Springs, Sparks, and out West to Verdi and Mogul.
    There would no need for the City to purchase expensive land and/or properties for this and the money saved could go towards the construction of the project.

    We need to get our citizens out of thier cars and RIDE THE RAILS to work!
    If there was adequate service available and at reasonable fares, we bet that the public will use it. Look to Europe for a role model!

  5. jay Says:

    Perhaps you should look at this information, it seems to contradict the headline…it seems BRT is not being replaced by LRT or the Streetcar but work in conjunction with the Streetcar proposal. Since no date was affixed to the article above, perhaps Reno council has changed its proposal.

  6. jay Says:

    sorry, I forgot to add the URL:

    http://www.downtownmakeover.com/10-6-09-Reno-Bus-Rapid-Transit.asp

  7. Tim Elam Says:

    I know this is not an ill concieved plan, however, it will require a specific strategy to make it happen. As a long time proponent, make no mistakes along the way because it will be up to the voters in two years, which should be the target date to get it on the ballot. Also, as an Amtrak Passenger Train Conductor, there is great potential for linkin the LTR project to heavy rail between Reno and Truckee if we can get UP on board…and it is possible with some finesse.

    Zweisystem replies: The scope for LRT/TramTrain success is great and it is about time transit planners on both sides of the boarder start to plan what is affordable and not pie in the sky.

  8. Ed A. Williams Says:

    Following my post of march 10th, 2010 and my sugestions for an extended INTER-URBAN passenger rail system utilizing the I-80 and the I-395 corridors for an elevated light rail system:

    They are spending THIRTY TWO AND A HALF MILLION DOLLARS to widen
    the Northbound lanes of I-395 at the “Spaghetti Bowl” to curve around into the Eastbound I-80 Freeway. This is a total WASTE OF MONEY because adding more traffic lanes to freeways no matter where they are built only leads to greater traffic congestion in the near future.
    All one has to do is see a video of the traffic in Karachi, India will see just what could happen here in Reno if we don’t get the people out of thier cars and ride the rails, instead.
    Already there are far too many cars and trucks on our main streets and roads already! Anyone who has to fight the morning commuter traffic at the intersection of Pyramid Way and McCarran will know what I’m talking about.
    Quit wasting money and put it to good use for a good railway system!

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