Could a “Surface Subway” be coming to Grand Avenue in the future

Imagine if you could use a specially designed transit system between Surprise and Phoenix that would cut your current travel time significantly.

Sound too good to be true?

A study currently underway is looking at potential scenarios for developing enhanced bus service from Surprise to Phoenix with the possibility of including bus-rapid transit in the future.

For those of you unfamiliar with bus-rapid transit, here’s how it works:

Known as BRT, the service typically features specialized design and infrastructure to improve performance and remove the typical causes of bus service delays. Sometimes referred to as a “surface subway,” BRT combines the capacity and speed of light rail with the flexibility and lower-cost of a bus system. Think of it as light rail without the tracks and with fewer stops.

Travel times could be reduced substantially on Grand Avenue by devoting a lane for use only by rapid-transit buses. For those of you who use the corridor now to get to and from work or attend a cultural or sporting event, think how quickly you could get to Phoenix and back if the bus you were riding on had a dedicated travel lane (no cars allowed) with limited stops.

From a transportation planning perspective, implementing bus-rapid transit initially makes a lot of sense because it will help demonstrate a greater need and provide the data required to eventually move to high capacity rapid rail service.

Previous studies on Grand Avenue developed bus-rapid transit and commuter rail alternatives. However, funding earmarked for BRT was dropped in 2009, and funding was never identified for commuter rail service. This illustrates the fact that we must have local and regional funding mechanisms in place in order to enhance transit services for our residents.

The current Grand Avenue Transit Feasibility Study will document existing and future conditions along Grand, including planned transportation projects. The study will also analyze travel patterns in and around the corridor and identify service gaps.

The final report will identify issues, opportunities and constraints for transit service along Grand as well as criteria and factors that connect service improvements to market demand. Identified improvements could include anything from local circulator buses to opportunities to connect with the existing and planned regional transit system.

Valley Metro and the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) are co-funding the study at the request of the Grand Avenue Coalition. The coalition includes the cities located along the study corridor, as well as the Arizona Department of Transportation and MAG.

The study’s findings should become available early next year.