A sign left by an opponent of the Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit project. Supporters of the project line up to speak during Monday night's public comment period. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
Richmond City Council voted Monday night to approve the $54 million Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit project in what several council members characterized as a first step toward improving the region’s lackluster public transportation system.
The final approval means construction on the 7.6 mile corridor connecting Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing will begin this summer. The Pulse should be up and running by October 2017.
“As one of our speakers said earlier, let’s get on board,” said Kathy Graziano, who represents Westover Hills.
Other members voted yes, with a caveat.
“It was never envisioned as something only for Richmond. It was always something for the whole region,” said Ellen Robertson, who represents the East End, Shockoe Bottom and Manchester. Robertson said council needed to “galvanize” its regional partners to invest in expanding rapid transit throughout the region.
Chris Hilbert, the Northside representative and council vice president, was more blunt. “If this doesn’t go any further, it’s not on us,” he said.
Council chambers was nearly at its 400-person capacity when the meeting started at 6 p.m. Tensions ran high as the night dragged on, and it became apparent that council intended to approve the project.
“How many of ya’ll ride the bus?” Someone crowed from the delay-the-project side as a line of Pulse supporters lined up to speak during public comment.
“No one asked you guys that,” a supporter retorted.
The final vote was cast after 11 p.m., as Mayor Dwight C. Jones watched from the back of the chamber. It tallied 7-1-1, with Southside representative Reva Trammell abstaining.
Charles Samuels, who represents the Fan-anchored 2nd district, was the lone vote no. He mounted a lengthy attempt to amend the agreement, which would have delayed the final vote for at least two weeks, but council struck down three separate tries after lengthy back-and-forths between Samuels and chief administrative officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn, GRTC CEO David Green, and even Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne.
“The folks in the 2nd district have made it clear they aren’t interested in this version of bus rapid transit,” Samuels said before the final vote.
Ten people spoke in opposition to the project as dozens more waved red ‘Unite the City’ signs in solidarity. Lynetta Thompson, president of the Richmond branch of the NAACP, said the project catered to more affluent, or choice, riders instead of low-income residents who are dependent on public transportation.
“This plan does not do enough to expand service to citizens who do not currently have access to public transit,” she said.
Marty Jewell, a former City Councilman, called the project “discriminatory.”
About 30 supporters of the project spoke during the public comment period, with a contingent of supporters, waving blue signs, filling one side of the chambers. Representatives from Partnership for Smarter Growth, the Richmond Association of Realtors and Sports Backers all endorsed the project.
“This first step is transformative,” said Charles Merritt, an organizer of RVA Rapid Transit, a grassroots organization that has advocated for the project for the last several years.