Where Will Phoenix Put Bus Rapid Transit?

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 6:05am

Valley Metro bus
Christina Estes/KJZZ
A Valley Metro bus.

Light rail isn’t the only public transit option expanding in Phoenix. The city is also working on bus rapid transit (BRT). It’s cheaper than light rail and can move more people faster than traditional bus service.

The Federal Transit Administration defines BRT as “a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast and efficient service that may include dedicated lanes, busways, traffic signal priority, off-board fare collection, elevated platforms and enhanced stations.” 

When Phoenix voters approved a transit tax in 2015, money was earmarked for bus rapid transit. At the time, the proposed 75 miles of new BRT included either 19th Avenue or 35th Avenue from Baseline Road in south Phoenix to Happy Valley Road and Interstate 17 in northwest Phoenix. The early plan also included BRT along stretches of Bell, Thomas and Baseline roads. But now city staff is analyzing data to determine whether those initial plans are the best choices when considering current and future ridership.

At the November's transportation subcommittee meeting, Councilwoman Thelda Williams said she wants parts of her northwest district considered, especially Happy Valley Road which leads into the city of Peoria.

“I think we’re going to miss the boat if we don’t recognize that’s going to be a very populated area and it’s pretty much ignored now but its day is rapidly coming,” she said. “I just think it’s very important that we have a lot of conversations with Peoria because they are expanding. The potential is so great. I just don’t want to miss the opportunity.”

Former councilwoman Peggy Neely who lobbied against the city’s planned light rail extension along west Camelback Road said the city needs to keep in mind people like her who live in north Phoenix.

“We talk about all the traffic on the streets,” Neely said. “It’s the folks that don’t have the ability to ride in a convenient way from the north area to downtown that are congesting the streets.”

Councilwoman Laura Pastor said, “Since our west side rail, which I will call Camelback, was eliminated, I would like to look at that corridor and also be able to talk with the city of Glendale and see if we then start some connectivity with the BRT and look at that route as we move forward.”

City staff presented four levels of BRT with costs ranging from $5 million to 7 million per mile with no dedicated lanes up to $45 million to 55 million per mile with entire lanes dedicated to the buses.

In December, Phoenix transportation officials will work with Valley Metro to come up with recommended routes. The information will then be presented to the City Council, which must approve.