The Works

New Starts: Boise’s Circulator Plans, Low-Cost Light Rail in France, BRT Turmoil in Dallas

Planners in Idaho’s capital say “circulator” and the citizens reply “streetcar,” the French city of Besançon celebrates the completion of its penny-pinching first light rail line, and DART’s proposal to build BRT in a suburban crosstown corridor riles several member cities.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s BRT option for the Cotton Belt has raised hackles in some of the communities. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Our weekly roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects from around the world.

Talk of Trolleys Circulates Around Boise
The city of Boise, Idaho’s capital and largest city, is contemplating a “circulator” to strengthen its downtown as an employment center, improve public transportation and slow down the rate of sprawl — all goals citizens said they wanted the city to pursue in three citizens’ surveys conducted between 2007 and 2010.

Though city officials are reluctant to use the term, it appears that the locals have trolleys in mind when talk of a downtown circulator surfaces. According to Boise Weekly, 54 percent of Boiseans who showed up at an open house last January said they would prefer the circulator be a streetcar route, as opposed to 26 percent who said it should be a bus.

As to where it should go, residents are pretty much in agreement on the destinations it should serve. Those who attended the open house identified four destinations in central Boise the circulator should serve: the downtown core (adjacent to the state Capitol), Boise State University, St. Luke’s Medical Center, and the Linen District.

Now the city is asking residents for guidance concerning the details, such as what streets the circulator should run on. Two community workshops next week will bring city officials and residents together to review the possible routes and develop recommended alternatives.

This community input-seeking is part of an alternatives analysis launched with a $375,000 federal grant in 2012. According to the Weekly, the citizen-focused process was largely the work of one Boise City Council member who recalled the poor public reception of a 2008 plan to build an east-west streetcar loop through downtown. To date, $563,000 in federal, city and non-profit funds have been spent on the analysis, which is expected to be completed next spring. If enough residents and elected officials are on board by then, the city estimates it would take another year to secure local funding for the project. The soonest construction could start would be the spring of 2016.

French City Celebrates Light Rail on the Cheap
Officials in Besançon, France cut the ribbon Aug. 30th on the city’s new, 14.5-km tram line, launching two days of “modest celebrations” to mark the completion of a line built to prove French light rail doesn’t have to cost so much.

The 31-station line had a price tag of €254 million ($335 million U.S.), the International Railway Journal reports. That works out to €17.5 million ($22.9 million U.S.) per km, and is in line with city officials’ goal of achieving cost savings of one-third over the typical French light rail project.

The municipality of Grand Besançon achieved its goal by standardizing station and equipment design. It also saved on the cost of the trams by soliciting bids from more builders; CAF, a company new to the French market, got the nod for those.

Railway Gazette International reports that the line was split in two for purposes of construction, with each section built by a different consortium of European companies.

BRT Proposal Causes Turmoil in Dallas
Faced with the prospect of no funding for rail transit in the next 20 years, Dallas Area Rapid Transit is considering a Plan B for providing east-west transit service along a 62-mile former Cotton Belt railroad line across the city’s northern reaches. This line would connect Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with nearby suburbs without requiring riders to go into downtown Dallas first. That plan, which would build a bus rapid transit facility in the corridor, has raised hackles in some of the communities along the line.

Particularly unhappy with the idea is Addison, one of DART’s founding communities, according to a report in The Dallas Morning News. The city has paid more than $200 million in sales taxes into DART for 31 years and had even set aside land for a future rail station. Its city manager, Lea Dunn, told the paper that rail is “what we should be pushing for.” In addition to Addison, officials from member cities Carrollton, Plano and Richardson and nonmember city Coppell have asked to meet with DART officials to voice their concerns with the BRT proposal.

City Council members representing Far North Dallas have other concerns with the proposal. Its routing, they say, takes it through areas of their districts with no potential for transit-oriented development. They would prefer to see the line dip to the south and run under the LBJ Freeway, Dallas’ inner beltway, on its way from the airport to Richardson or Plano.

DART officials say building BRT along the Cotton Belt corridor would not preclude replacing it with rail transit at some point in the future. Dunn considered this foolish too, as it would mean paying capital costs twice: “It would be more expensive in the long run,” she said.

Know of a project you think deserves inclusion in New Starts? Send a Tweet to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: light railstreetcarsbus rapid transitdallas

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