Transit Briefs: CapMetro, Metra, NJ Transit

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
NJ Transit wrote in an Oct. 12 Twitter post: “Today, NJ TRANSIT CEO Kevin Corbett joined @govmurphy, Congressman @frankpallone, @speakercoughlin, @woodbridgenj Mayor John McCormac and Russo Development CEO Edward Russo to advance a significant Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project at MetroPark Train Station.” (Photograph Courtesy of NJ Transit, via Twitter)

NJ Transit wrote in an Oct. 12 Twitter post: “Today, NJ TRANSIT CEO Kevin Corbett joined @govmurphy, Congressman @frankpallone, @speakercoughlin, @woodbridgenj Mayor John McCormac and Russo Development CEO Edward Russo to advance a significant Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project at MetroPark Train Station.” (Photograph Courtesy of NJ Transit, via Twitter)

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CapMetro) seeks 1,000-plus jobs for Project Connect in Austin, Tex. Also, Chicago’s Metra unveils 2023 budget; and New Jersey Transit advances a TOD (transit-oriented development) project at Metropark station in Woodbridge.

According to NBC-affiliate KXAN, CapMetro will team with Workforce Solutions Capital Area (WFSCA) to develop more than 1,000 jobs for the $7.1 billion Project Connect bus and rail transit improvement initiative (see map below). Austin voters in November 2020 overwhelmingly approved Project Connect, financed by a 0.875-cent (7/8 of 1%) sales tax increase. Also included in the initiative: $300 million for TOD and anti-displacement measures.

On the rail side, Project Connect includes three new light rail lines (21-mile Orange, 15-mile Blue and 9.5-mile Gold); two additional commuter rail stations along the MetroRail Red Line, which extends from downtown Austin to Leander; a new 27-mile MetroRail Green Line, which would connect neighborhoods east of central Austin to downtown; and a new light rail tunnel in the downtown area.

The three-year partnership—recently approved by the CapMetro Finance Committee—will begin in December. “The collaboration will tap into WFSCA’s education and business partners to expand CapMetro’s access to a talent pipeline,” the media outlet reported. “WFSCA will help identify gaps in CapMetro’s talent pool and map out in-demand positions and necessary skills to fulfill those needs.”

The transit agency is slated to hire, over time, 300-400 new MetroBus positions; 80-100 new Regional Rail jobs; 500-plus new light rail jobs; 75-plus new facilities positions; and 100-150 new MetroAccess & Pickup jobs as the Project Connect initiative builds out, according to KXAN.

“In addition to these Project Connect-specific jobs, officials added the transit authority will need to fill between 700 and 1,000 frontline jobs each year to keep up with overall transit needs,” KXAN reported.

The collaboration will begin with hiring a WFSCA staff member dedicated to Project Connect. “Performance metric details are currently being finalized as part of the agreement,” according to KXAN. “Those details will be available for the CapMetro Board of Directors to take final action on the item at their Oct. 24 meeting.”

Metra on Oct. 12 proposed and released for public comment a $980 million operating budget for 2023 (see above), which includes options for discounting the cost of a monthly pass from pre-pandemic pricing and other fare changes.

Under one proposal, the price of a full fare monthly pass would equal 16 one-way fares, a reduction from 29 one-way fares, the price before the current—but temporary and promotional—$100 flat-rate “Super Saver” pass, according to the commuter rail agency. The day pass would be offered only in the Ventra app and priced at two one-way trips; it would be good for unlimited travel between the selected zones for a single day. Under that proposal, Metra would only allow monthly pass holders (and not holders of other tickets) to pay an incremental fare to travel beyond their selected zones. The cost to travel beyond selected zones would be $1 for the first zone and $0.50 for each additional zone.

Metra said it may also consider a fare proposal “reflective of comments from Board members indicating a desire for a more simplified and consolidated fare structure, potentially consisting of retaining the existing $100 Super Saver monthly pass, the existing $6 and $10 day passes, or some combination of those and similar products.”

The Board is slated to choose a fare option when it votes on the budget in November.

“Our hope is that the competitive pricing on our monthly passes will encourage more people to ride Metra and more people to choose the monthly pass as their fare payment option,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.

According to Metra, the $980 million operating budget is 8.9%, or $80 million, higher than the 2022 amended budget due to “inflationary and contractual cost increases, higher expenses incurred by restoring service and headcount levels to pre-pandemic levels, and costs associated with capital projects and strategic initiatives.”

The operating budget forecasts system-generated revenue (mostly fares) of $218.2 million and regional transportation sales tax revenue of $523.6 million, the commuter rail agency reported. The forecast for fares is based on a projection that ridership will start the year at about 40% of pre-pandemic (2019) ridership and end the year at about 55% of pre-pandemic levels.

The remaining $238.2 million will be covered by federal COVID-relief funding, reported Metra, which received nearly $1.1 billion in three rounds of relief funding and will have $599.2 million remaining at the start of 2023. Relief funding is expected to run out in 2025, requiring additional funding or budget actions, Metra said.

The commuter rail agency also detailed how it plans to spend $504.6 million in new capital funding. About 67% of the budget will fund large-scale projects, including station reconstruction ($119.5 million); railcar rehabilitation and purchase ($70.8 million); program management ($38.6 million); locomotive improvements ($33.3 million); bridge replacement and rehabilitation ($32.1 million); ticket vending machines ($24.6 million); and interlockings ($21.4 million).

Metra said the capital budget is funded by $252.5 million in federal formula funding, a nearly 30% increase from 2022 levels; $30.8 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement and other federal funding; $73.8 million in Illinois PAYGO funds; $12 million in Illinois Multi-Modal Transportation Bond funds; $500,000 from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (IDCEO); $5 million from Cook County, Ill.; and $130 million in RTA bonds.

In related developments, the latest addition to Metra’s locomotive fleet, the SD70MACH, was unveiled Oct. 11 on the commuter rail agency’s social media accounts.

(Metropark Station Photograph Courtesy of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, via Twitter)

DOR Woodbridge, LLC—a joint venture of Russo Development, Onyx Equities, and Dinallo Development LLC/Terminal Construction—has been selected for a TOD project at NJ Transit’s Metropark Station, the transit agency reported on Oct. 12. Metropark serves NJ Transit commuter and Amtrak intercity trains. The TOD project is slated to support local and regional economic development through the creation of Class A office and retail space; housing opportunities (20% of which will be designated as affordable housing); community amenities; and station-area improvements, including bicycle, pedestrian and infrastructure upgrades.

“These strategic investments and development of a cohesive community centered at the station will enhance mobility options and help connect New Jerseyans to employment, education, health care, and other opportunities through improved access to NJ Transit’s transportation system,” according to the transit agency.

DOR Woodbridge in the coming months will perform site due diligence and work with NJ Transit, Woodbridge Township and project stakeholders to advance the project design and related financing, phasing and implementation plans.

“Anchored by one of NJ Transit’s busiest stations on the Northeast Corridor, this TOD project at Metropark is an innovative effort that will create housing, office and retail space, in addition to station-area improvements for our customers,” NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett said. “I’m pleased that this TOD also supports one of the five key goals in our 10-Year Strategic Plan, NJT2030, which commits to promoting a more sustainable future for our planet.”

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