Transit Briefs: Brightline West, RTD, Freedom to Move Act, Minn. Met Council

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Rendering Courtesy of Brightline

Rendering Courtesy of Brightline

Brightline and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) apply to acquire $3.75 billion in Federal-State Partnership Program grant money to go toward construction of the $12 billion Brightline West high-speed rail system. Also, Regional Transportation District (RTD) announces that a Spanish version of its Transit Watch app is now available; Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) announce fare-free transit legislation, Freedom to Move Act; and Minnesota’s Metropolitan (Met) Council announces the creation of its new Transit Infrastructure Division.

Brightline West

NDOT has applied for a nearly $4 billion federal grant to support the $12 billion Brightline West project, a 218-mile high-speed rail line that would connect the south Las Vegas valley with southern California through the Interstate 15 corridor, according to multiple news reports.

According to the reports, NDOT and Brightline applied to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) seeking $3.75 billion that would come from the agency’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program.

“Nevada’s entire Congressional delegation on Monday signed onto a letter, along with several colleagues from California, in support of the project. They are urging the federal government to approve NDOT’s application,” according to the reports.

“This unprecedented funding opportunity for intercity high-speed rail will unleash private investment at a critical moment for our nation, demonstrating the potential for public-private partnerships and planting a flag for American high-speed rail,” the bipartisan letter states.

The remaining cost of the rail line, which would connect passengers between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga in about two hours, would be paid by tax-exempt private activity bond allocations from Nevada and California, and private capital, according to the reports.

According to the reports, the station for Las Vegas would be located near Blue Diamond Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, south of the Strip. Stations for California would be in Victor Valley, Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga, which would connect with the Los Angeles area’s existing Metrolink regional train system.

“After more than a decade of working to find a pathway, Brightline West will be the first true high-speed rail system in America and will serve as the blueprint for how we can connect major city pairs that are too short to fly and too far to drive,” Brightline CEO Mike Reininger said in a statement, according to the reports.

According to the reports, several unions in the two states, including the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC) and the Southern Nevada Building Trades Union, “have already reached labor agreements with Brightline in advance of a potential groundbreaking,”

According to the reports, the project would break ground later this year, depending on the FRA’s decision on the project’s environmental assessment, which is expected to come this summer.


RTD announced April 21 that its Transit Watch app, which allows customers to report safety and security concerns directly to the agency’s Transit Police Department, is now available in Spanish on both the Android and Apple platforms, “enabling real-time communication in Spanish between RTD’s customers and its safety and security staff.”

According to RTD, since Transit Watch debuted in the Denver metro region nine years ago, the app has been downloaded close to 39,000 times. The app, available on both iOS and Android devices, “enables users to quickly, easily and, if they choose, anonymously communicate with RTD’s Transit Police Department,” the agency said. In the moment, this information helps RTD coordinate response across the agency’s service district to respond to incidents. Longer term, RTD says, such details allow the agency to “understand trends and inform decision-making related to outreach and deployment of resources.”

Of the 9,611 incidents reported to Transit Police in the first three months of this year, approximately 15% were identified through use of the Transit Watch app, according to RTD. About two-thirds of the incidents reported in the app during this period concerned drug activity.

According to RTD, he work to add Spanish functionality in the app began more than a year ago, in light of a customer approaching Deputy Police Chief Steve Martingano to ask how Spanish-speaking customers could report suspicious behaviors on RTD vehicles and properties. With approval to proceed from General Manager and CEO Debra A. Johnson, members of RTD’s Transit Police staff worked with The Brass Star Group, the developer of the app, to build a version of Transit Watch in Spanish.

To access the Spanish version of Transit Watch, customers must set the language on their smartphone to Spanish and update the Transit Watch app from the respective Apple or Google store to the latest version available. With these details in place, the app will open in Spanish.

For public safety dispatchers, information submitted through the app in Spanish appears before them in English and Spanish. This fact enables English-speaking employees to continue chatting through the app with Spanish-speaking customers, even those who choose to remain anonymous.

Transit Watch is easy to use in either language, RTD said. In opening the app, users have the option to call RTD Transit Police or report an incident. Incident reports can be created quickly, and the app provides options to select the type of incident, identify a location and time, and add a photo if desired. (Videos cannot be accepted.) Once submitted, details arrive in seconds in Transit Police Communications.

Freedom to Move Act

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on April 24 announced the reintroduction of the Freedom to Move Act, bold legislation, co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), “to support state and local efforts to establish public transportation as a public good through fare-free services.”

The Freedom to Move Act, which is endorsed by 350 Mass, A Better City, Action 4 Equity, Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Bikes Not Bombs, Boston Cyclist Union, Community Labor United, GreenRoots, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, LiveableStreets Alliance, MeVa—Merrimack Valley Transit, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, Transit Matters, Transportation for Massachusetts, Transport Workers Union, and WalkMassachusetts, would support state and local efforts to promote public transportation as a public good for all by:

  • Establishing a $5 billion competitive grant program per year to support state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transportation systems.
  • Investing in efforts to improve the safety and quality of public transportation services, particularly in low-income and historically underserved communities.
  • Ensuring grantees use funds to address and close equity gaps in current transit systems.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and families spent more time and money commuting to and from their jobs, their schools, and other critical daily services than ever before,” stated a press release from Rep. Pressley’s office. “Low-income families have faced the biggest financial burden by spending nearly 30% of their household income on transportation expenses. Traffic congestion has also worsened greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution, exacerbating climate change and contributing to health disparities like asthma and lung cancer in marginalized communities.

“Increasing access to free, safe, reliable, and accessible public transit systems will help improve community livability and mobility, increase connectivity to critical services—particularly for low-income workers and families, people of color, students, seniors, and people with disabilities—and address many of our nation’s most severe inequities.”

Rep. Pressley and Sen. Markey originally introduced the Freedom to Move Act in June 2020. Following the bill’s introduction, Senator Markey, Congresswoman Pressley, and then-Councilor Michelle Wu published an op-ed that discussed the bill and the need to fund public transportation as a public good. In July 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act that included a fare-free pilot program modeled after the two lawmakers Freedom to Move Act. In March 2021, Senator Markey and Congresswoman Pressley reintroduced the Freedom to Move Act.

In August 2021, Rep. Pressley and Senator Markey called on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to make the entire T fare-free for the duration of the Orange Line’s shutdown.

“Public transportation is meant to provide folks with the mobility and freedom to access critical services, but as the past few years have shown us, far too many people in the Massachusetts 7th and across the country lack the safe, reliable, and affordable transit service that they deserve,” said Rep. Pressley. “We have made real strides in making the case for public transit as a public good but our work is far from over. At every level of government we must finally make the robust investments necessary to restore riders’ confidence in the T and promote public transit nationwide as the public good that it is. Our bill would build on the success of fare-free pilot programs in the Commonwealth by providing safe, high-quality, and fare-free rides for all, and ensuring that everyone can access jobs, goods, and essential services like education and health care–all while reducing traffic congestion and emissions. I’m grateful to Senator Markey, Mayor Wu, and our transit justice advocates for their partnership.”

“Our country’s public transit must be made accessible and affordable so that everyone can get to work, school, the grocery store, and other critical services in their day-to-day lives,” said Senator Markey. “When we support state and local efforts to embed economic and climate justice into our transit system with fare-free service, we ensure that low-income workers and families, people of color, seniors, and people with disabilities have the freedom to move and fully participate in. I am proud to work with Congresswoman Pressley to fight for a transit system that is safe, reliable, and free—all while addressing climate change.” 

“It is an all hands-on deck moment to support public transportation in Massachusetts, and in Boston in particular,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We know that making the system more accessible to all actually improves its performance and reliability. We know that this works because we have been measuring every bit of it in Boston through these three bus routes that have been fare-free for over a year. This legislation is critical to making sure that our entire system is one that is a vehicle and platform to connect people to their dreams as opposed to a barrier. I’m grateful to our federal delegation for this legislation and stepping up once again to ensure we are rejecting false choices.”

A copy of the Freedom to Move Act is available to download below.

Minn. Met Council

The Minnesota Met Council on April 24 announced the creation of a new division and leadership position to “provide a more consistent and robust approach to complicated and critical infrastructure projects.”

The new Regional Transit Infrastructure Division, Met Council says, will “manage the development and construction of regional transit projects that are significant in size and complexity and have substantial financial impact,” including all light rail and bus rapid transit projects.

The Division will be led by a new Executive Director who will report directly to Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle.

For many years, the organization says it only managed one major capital project at a time; however, over the past 15 years, Met Council has taken on multiple projects, which can at times put a strain on the organization. With this new division, Met Council says it will be “better structured to implement multiple transitway capital projects simultaneously.”

Met Council will begin the search for the Executive Director position. While this search is under way, the Metro Transit Deputy General Manager for Capital Programs will begin reporting directly to the Chair. The transition to this new Division is expected to be complete in the next several months.

“We’ve taken the feedback and recommendations seriously from experts such as the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Office of the Legislative Auditor and engaged with national consultants on how best to approach this complex work,” said Zelle. “I am confident this new division under the leadership of an executive director will ultimately strengthen how the Met Council advances the region’s vision for transit.”

“These massive infrastructure projects are more than construction; they also require robust planning and extensive public engagement,” added Zelle. “I am committed to creating this new division that will focus on strengthening the application of best project management practices when implementing large regional transit infrastructure projects.”

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