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Quicker Travel: GRTC Makes Case for New $70 Million Line

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Plans for a rapid transit line between Willow Lawn and Rocketts Landing are still moving — but they're crawling.

At a meeting Tuesday, administrators with GRTC Transit System released the results of an economic impact study they hope will fuel support for the line. It was the first major status update on the project since November 2010.

The analysis is based on a case study of a similar line in Cleveland and predicts that the project would serve as a catalyst for development and, by 2021, boost property values along the corridor by 11 percent.

The line still would be in buses — it's referred to in the industry as bus rapid transit — but operate more like a light rail system than a standard bus line.

What does that look like? Limited stops — 14 along the 7.6-mile route — and street-level stations where passengers buy tickets before boarding and get real-time updates on arrivals. In the city center, the lines would have dedicated lanes and receive priority at traffic lights. At peak travel times, a bus would come every 10 minutes.

Larry Hagin, GRTC's director of planning, says the system would reduce travel time from Willow Lawn to the city center from about 40 minutes to 25 — roughly the same time it takes to travel by car.

A final round of public meetings will be held next spring. If the public is on board, GRTC can start applying for federal funding, Hagin says. He estimates the cost at nearly $70 million, about $17 million of which would need to be covered by city funds.

The project had been slowed by issues with a low-weight bridge and routing concerns raised by the Richmond chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Hagin says. Both issues have been resolved.

In the interim, GRTC administrators and community organizers say they've seen a significant increase in resident support for such a system. Hagin says that's important because it can't be built if taxpayers won't foot part of the bill.

The Rev. Ben Campbell, a member of Mayor Dwight Jones' anti-poverty task force, says the movement for a regional rapid transit system is growing in the area. He says he hopes the line planned for Broad Street will demonstrate the value of such a system and build the political will to expand into the counties, as suggested in the commission's report to the mayor last year.

"'It'll never happen' has been the No. 1 slogan in Richmond for 200 years," he says. "This is a good start."

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