Government

Corridor express bus to launch in 2018

Cedar Rapids to Iowa City service timed to ease congestion while interchange is being replaced

Traffic travels south of downtown Cedar Rapids on Interstate 380 on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Traffic travels south of downtown Cedar Rapids on Interstate 380 on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CORALVILLE — When an express bus service between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City finally gets off the ground — planned for 2018 — Linda Fisher, 74, said it is going to beat all expectations.

“I think this has the potential to not be what is envisioned at the moment but will grow and grow and grow,” the Coralville woman said. “Think about how much easier it is to sit on a bus rather than drive. This could really free up peoples’ lives.”

Andy Stoll, a professional who works between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, agreed.

“If I can jump on a bus with guaranteed Wi-Fi, I would take an hour ride versus driving for 35 minutes stuck in traffic,” Stoll said.  

The Iowa Department of Transportation hopes to launch an express bus service in 2018, a year before the Interstate 80/380 interchange replacement begins, an agency official said Tuesday. The hope is to relieve traffic and congestion during construction, which is slated from 2019 to 2023.

“The bus service would begin one year before major traffic impacts,” Brent Paulsen, of the Iowa DOT office of public transit, said Tuesday night at an open house about the service.

This is a year later than originally proposed, but the upshot is a funding source to make this happen has been identified.The express bus service would be subsidized as part of the $270 million budget of the five-year 80/380 interchange project.

Funding would be provided for seven years, from 2018 through 2025, so long as the program remains in demand, Paulsen said.

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The cost projection is based on an assumption of $70 per hour for operations and $25 per hour for capital costs, such as buses. The budget would be about $670,000 per year, according to Paulsen’s calculations.

An express bus was one of the main recommendations of the 2014 Iowa Commuter Transportation Study, commissioned by the Iowa DOT for $157,786. The East Central Iowa Council of Governments was charged with implementing recommendations. Other recommendations, including a van pool, are slated to launch later this year, according to Doug Elliott, executive director of the governments council

Transportation planners from the Iowa DOT, and Kansas City-Mo.-based consultant, HNTB, presented three scenarios for an express bus Tuesday at the Coralville Library on Tuesday.

A second open house is scheduled today (Wednesday), from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, 501 First St. SE in Cedar Rapids.

The scenarios include:

• Projected ridership of 460 people a day with four stops, including the transportation center in downtown Cedar Rapids, Kirkwood Community College-Cedar Rapids campus, Iowa River Landing in Coralville, and the Court Street transit center in downtown Iowa City.

• Projected ridership of 330 people a day with five stops, including an additional stop at University of Iowa’s west campus transit center.

• Projected ridership of 300 people a day, including a second stop in downtown Cedar Rapids.

“The more times you deviate from the route, the longer your travel time, and the less people will take it,” said Brian Comer, a senior planner with HNTB.

“By far” the majority of ridership would be commuters from Cedar Rapids heading to Iowa City, including about 90 percent under the first scenario, said Brian Comer, a senior planner with HNTB, a consultant based in Kansas City, Mo. Commuting patterns and other factors, such as cost of parking in Iowa City and at the University of Iowa, informed the projections, he said.

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The proposed fee is $3.50 for one way. Eight round trips would run in the morning and evening beginning every 30 minutes from 5:15 to 10:33 a.m. and 3 to 8:38 p.m. An end-to-end ride would take about 50 minutes. A guaranteed ride home program to get people home in case of an emergency would be included, possibly contracted through a local taxi cab company, Comer said. Midday service is under consideration but not part of the base budget, he said.

A transportation vendor would operate the service, Comer said

Plenty of details still need to be ironed out, such as integrating the express bus to the transit systems in Cedar Rapids, Coralville, Iowa City and University of Iowa, Comer said. Comer said feedback still is being taken on routes, stops, hours and other logistics of the program before a scenario is recommended to the Iowa DOT in the coming weeks.

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