ALBANY — The CDTA has won $60.9 million in federal funding to build a bus rapid transit line from downtown Albany to Crossgates Mall.
The eight-mile line will be the third Bus Plus route for the Capital District Transportation Authority. It will follow Washington and Western avenues for most of its length, then detour off to the state’s Harriman Office Campus, University at Albany and Crossgates Commons.
Some 51,000 people live within a half-mile of the line; estimated annual ridership is 3.5 million.
Total project cost is expected to be $81.2 million. The New York state Department of Transportation will contribute $11 million and CDTA $9.3 million.
Major expenses will include 16 buses, larger passenger shelters with electronic message screens, sidewalk upgrades, curb cuts for mobility-impaired passengers, underground utility upgrades and traffic signal improvements.
CDTA’s first rapid transit venture was the Red Line in 2011, which runs 17 miles on Route 5 from downtown Albany to downtown Schenectady. The Blue Line, 15 miles along the Hudson River from Albany to Waterford via Cohoes and Troy, is projected for completion late this year.
The newest one will be the Purple Line. Construction will start in spring 2021 and is projected to be complete in late 2021.
The system cuts travel time by synchronizing traffic signals to speed buses along the route and boosts rider experience with amenities including free WiFi.
It is, said CDTA CEO Carm Basile, the functional equivalent of a light rail system, without the exorbitant cost of tracks.
The $60.89 million Federal Transit Administration grant to CDTA was announced in unlikely fashion late Thursday — in a tweet from President Trump, who wrote: “I am proud to commit $60.9M in @USDOT funding to provide a BRAND NEW bus system for a very busy and popular transit corridor in the Albany, NY area—more help coming to the people of New York!”
It pre-empted the traditional announcement of such projects by the local congressman or senator. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., noted in a news release Friday that he’d been advocating seven years for CDTA’s planned 40-mile bus rapid transit system.
The president separately tweeted similar announcements for Phoenix, Milwaukee, Ogden, Utah, and other places.
“What was announced in a very different way last night is a competitive grant process,” Basile said Friday. “You’re competing with or against other systems like us across the country.”
Applicants are judged first on the details, cost and viability of what they are proposing, then on their ability to bring the project to reality.
“That’s where we think we grade out pretty well,” Basile said. “We’ve demonstrated our ability to do this, get it done and make it work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed construction work on the Blue Line, and shouldn’t impact the work needed to be done for the Purple Line, he said. What has changed radically is the number of riders (many fewer) and the precautions needed to keep them healthy (much greater).
This has rendered short-term ridership projections obsolete.
“What has changed in the last three months is the expectations,” Basile said. “How quickly do people come back?”
CDTA’s Red Line uses clean diesel buses — standard engines with enhanced emissions controls — and for three months has been testing four electric buses in a pilot program.
The past three months have been far from normal operating circumstances, so it’s too early to judge their performance. But with a 40-foot diesel bus running $425,000 and a similarly-sized electric bus $825,000, cost may be the limiting factor.
For that reason, the Purple Line is tentatively slated to get clean diesel buses.
“I’m holding onto the possibility that these could be electric,” Basile said.