The city’s Planning Commission on Monday greenlighted the Greater Richmond Transit Co.’s long-discussed plans for a 7.6-mile bus rapid transit line that has come under fire in recent weeks.
The nine-person body, which is appointed by City Council, voted unanimously to approve the final design and construction of the GRTC Pulse amid assurances from supporters that approval would signify a critical step toward improved regional transportation.
“We will never have a regional system if Richmond doesn’t take the first leg,” says Ellen Robertson, the East End City Council representative who serves on the commission. “There is more interest, more dedication, more realization that a regional transportation system must be built if the region is going to be competitive moving forward.”
The vote means project construction, overseen by the Virginia Department of Transportation, will begin in summer 2016, as scheduled. The Pulse is expected to be up and running by October 2017.
The $54 million project, which will connect Willow Lawn and Rocketts Landing along Broad Street and East Main Streets, has been the subject of criticism in recent months. Some critics question whether it will provide better bus service to city residents who need improved access to a bus line, as well as how it fits into a larger regional plan for improved public transit. Four critics addressed the committee to opose, among other things, the plan itself or the timetable for construction and completion.
Jonathan Marcus, president of the West Grace Street Association and chair of the RVA Coalition for Smart Transit steering commitee, asked the planning commission to postpone the vote.
“We unanimously and vigorously support improved public transit, which is exactly why we’re concerned with this BRT proposal,” Marcus says. “It does all seem predicated on a wonderful future … but that’s not what’s on the table.”
About 10 people spoke in favor of the project at Monday’s meeting. Additionally, the commission received 44 letters of support for the project before the vote.
“I don’t believe in letting perfect be the enemy of good,” says Melvin Law, the commission’s vice chair. “This is good. This isn’t perfect.”