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Barrels to be removed, buses to test GRTC Pulse project

RICHMOND, Va. –  The next phase of the Pulse (Bus Rapid Transit) project that begins Thursday morning in Richmond is a "sign that we are almost ready to welcome you aboard,” GRTC officials said Wednesday afternoon.

“The orange barrels that have been in the street for everyone’s safety -- while the stations and the median lanes and all the other work was happening – they’re coming up,” GRTC Director of Communications Carrie Rose Pace said.

As a result, contractors will be removing orange barrels at Thompson Street Thursday morning and will continue east along the route with all of the barriers removed by Sunday.

"Lane Construction will continue with some remaining work at the stations, such as: landscaping; lights; totem signage; station glass; station ceilings; and more," officials said. "Some roadway work is expected to continue, including forming pedestrian curb ramps, as well as sidewalk repairs. Please watch for workers who may be in the roadway, along sidewalks and at stations. Slow down and maintain a safe driving distance when passing through these areas."

The removal of the barrels will allow transit company to start real-time "operational exercises" on Monday.

"We’ve already been able to do some, but this gives us a clear path, including in the bus-only lanes, to get out there with our vehicles… before we open our doors to the public," Pace said.

Pace said drivers should expect to see buses along the route in the bus-only lanes, docking with the station platforms and running through the traffic lights as well as merging in and out of lanes.

“The most important thing for everybody else sharing the road is to follow the posted signals and signs," Pace explained. "Buses have their own lanes and signals on part of the routes. Vehicles still have their own signals and turn lanes on the rest of the roadway."

Pace also reminded folks not to bike, skateboard or drive in bus-only lanes.  Drivers were also urged to stay in their designated lanes.

This phase of the project, which first broke ground in August 2016, also includes outreach and signage in addition to observation and testing.

GRTC needs 90 days to test routes, officials previously said, and on that timeline, a July 1 launch is possible. Contractually, the project must be done by June 30, 2018, but they could finish earlier.

Ten new 40-foot buses running on compressed natural gas will operate along the route when it is complete. The modern buses will have 38 seats as well as room for 15 standees. Bike capacity in the front will be slightly increased to hold three.

There will be 3.2 miles of dedicated bus lanes over the 7.6 mile route that stretches from Rockett’s Landing to Willow Lawn. The buses will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 during off-peak hours. There are 14 station locations; five median and nine curbside.

In the fall the project gained speed as construction moved above ground, according to Carrie Rose Pace, Director of Communications. Recently, close to 50 crews have been working day and night, according to Rose Pace.

The dedicated median stretch of the route was completed in early fall and crews began milling, paving, and asphalt striping for the dedicated bus-only lanes. New traffic signals were installed along the route that will provide dedicated left-turn arrows. Those are intended to increase driver and pedestrian safety and improve traffic flow.

Lane Construction won the bid for the project. The federal government is contributing close to $25 million, the city will cover $7.6 million, state funding equals $32 million and Henrico County will contribute $400,000.