RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond City Council voted 7-1-1 Monday night to approve GRTC’s $49 million dollar Bus Rapid Transit. Councilman Charles Samuels, 2nd District, voted no to the proposal and Councilwoman Reva Trammell, 8th District, abstained from the vote.
The project, nicknamed Pulse, will transform Broad Street into a seven-mile stretch of frequently running buses, stretching from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing. The plan includes 14 station locations and three and a half miles dedicated to bus-only lanes.
"This evening’s vote marks a major milestone for the city of Richmond and our region," Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones said. "Since 2009, we have worked in support of the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to provide our residents with greater mobility and access to jobs, education and healthcare. The project that was approved tonight meets those goals and is an important first step toward a region-wide rapid transit system."
Monday night's vote came after seven years of planning and intense debate. While the project has already been approved by the city's Planning Commission and Urban Design Committee, there had been several hurdles and concerns that divided the community and city leaders.
Even Governor Terry McAuliffe warned city leaders that they risked losing funding with every delayed vote.
Proponents argued the project would bring jobs, economic security and much needed public transportation to the region, at little cost to the City of Richmond and Henrico.
"The Pulse will be a stimulus for job growth, creating nearly 400 jobs within the city of Richmond and stimulating nearly $35 million in economic impact," Mayor Jones said. "The project also supports our environmental sustainability goals, as it will help reduce our carbon footprint."
However, critics feared the plan would have a negative impact on downtown businesses, including parking availability for customers.
"We need to have a better grasp of the schedule and what construction at each stop will look," Richmond Economic and Community Development Director Lee Downey to City Council. "Once we have that information, we can come up with a more concrete plan on how to assist [Richmond businesses] during the construction period."
They also said by connecting Rocketts Landing to the West End, the plan neglected some of the poorest regions of the city, where residents needed better access to transportation for jobs.
"I work with individuals every day who tell me 'I need a job, can you help me?'" a man named Mr. Walker told Richmond City Council. "They say to me, 'I don’t have transportation, I don’t have a driver's license because of my past.' But if we had mass transportation in this area to get us beyond here, there are plenty jobs out there."
It was standing room only at Monday night’s meeting, that included a 90-minute-long public hearing.
A final vote didn't come down until after 11 p.m.
GRTC said construction could begin in early April with operations beginning in October 2017.