RICHMOND, Va. – Over 400 days have passed since the GRTC Pulse (Bus Rapid Transit) project broke ground in August 2016.
Many commuters certainly notice the under-construction traffic patterns over the 7.6 mile route stretching from Rockett’s Landing to Willow Lawn, but much more has been taking place.
Construction has moved along swiftly as of late, according to Carrie Rose Pace, Director of Communications.
There are 27 crews working day and night right now; the number expected to double over the next couple of months and if necessary, triple in early 2018.
"As you can see…there’s been tremendous progress now above-ground," Rose Pace said. "Most of the work that you saw last fall through this year was a lot of utility work, making sure that underneath was ready to go -- and now that we’ve got all that taken care of, we are able to do all of the above ground work."
This part of the process moves much faster, especially with the long spate of dry weather in the region that has been perfect for construction and paving operations.
The dedicated median stretch of the route has been completed and crews have started milling, paving, and asphalt striping for the dedicated bus-only lanes.
New traffic signals have been installed along the route that will provide dedicated left-turn arrows. Those are intended to increase driver and pedestrian safety, and improve traffic flow.
"It’s just a safer alignment along the route to make sure vehicles have dedicated left turn lanes," Rose Pace said.
That also means that drivers will be able to make – big gasp – left turns from Broad onto Boulevard.
The bulkiest work right now is the installation of the canopies. Fifteen of 26 have been installed, and crews are knocking out about two a week. Last week the canopies were installed at VCU and VUU.
Much of what is left to do are the façade pieces, Rose Pace said.
For example, the red brick currently being installed at the eastbound Allison Street station.
"You'll see the roofing with the light starting to come in as well at the station," Rose Pace said. "The body of the stations when you install that steel canopy, that's really the biggest step that has to happen before you can get into the finishing touches."
Crews have also been pouring concrete for the bus pads, the ADA ramps and the bike ramps.
Amid the general complaints about heightened traffic and business access, Rose Pace said they see a lot of excitement from people, especially at outreach events.
"We've held a number of outreach events were we take a Pulse vehicle and plop it in a big public event like the Folk Festival and we were overwhelmed with just positive feedback, excitement people coming on the vehicle wanting to learn about the Pulse, asking how long do you have to wait, because we are ready to ride right now," Rose Pace said.
She acknowledged that said enthusiasm is great, "but of course, construction itself is absolutely going to be frustrating for some people as you are dealing with it and the businesses are particularly sensitive too."
"So the contractors are doing everything that they can to get done as quickly and as safely as possible, but while they're working accommodate access into and out of these businesses," she added.
The orginial goal was for the project to be completed by 2017.
"So the early goal was by the end of this year and we all know that's going to be tough, but the contractor is still working to finish as soon as possible and they really are making great progress," Rose Pace said.
GRTC won’t give a forecasted completion date at this time.
Ten new 40-foot buses running on compressed natural gas will operate along the route when it is complete. They will have 38 seats as well as rooms for 15 standees. Bike capacity in the front will be slightly increased to hold three.
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.