Bus rapid transit takes a green route

July 2014 » Project + Technology Portfolio » Environmental
Connecticut’s CTfastrak maintains an eco-friendly focus.
Al Bisacky, P.E., LEED AP
CTfastrak station map.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation’s (CTDOT) CTfastrak Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line will be a modern mass transit alternative that reduces traffic congestion on overcrowded transportation arteries. But it’s so much more. For those living in Central Connecticut, the bus line is an opportunity to improve air quality, green neighborhoods, and even enrich water and wetlands along the route. 

While that may sound like good marketing speak, the reality is that CTfastrak will have a remarkably positive influence on the region, ranging from the eco-friendly CTfastrak stations to ecologically sustainable habitats and multi-use trails. 

As the first of many proposed BRT lines in the country, CTDOT is focused on setting the standard for future BRT lines by introducing a community-based, sustainable transit solution that offers convenient, quality service within an environmentally friendly framework.  

BRT basics

Currently under construction, the 9.4-mile BRT line will run from New Britain to Hartford along Interstate 84. As the first of its kind in the state, the BRT line combines the fast, traffic-free advantage of a train with the frequent, direct and flexible benefit of a bus. 

CTfastrak stations will include easy bike and pedestrian access as well as green landscaping and pervious hardscape pavements.

The environmentally friendly transit vehicles will operate on a dedicated, bus-only roadway with limited stops. Rather than eight to 10 stops per mile like on a regular bus route, CTfastrak will have 10 station stops approximately one mile apart. CTfastrak is expected to carry approximately 16,000 riders per day, many of whom will be people who currently drive on I-84. The BRT line is expected to remove about 17 million vehicle miles per year from the roadway — a reduction that eliminates 12,800 tons of carbon dioxide emissions yearly.

Station design

With the goal to enhance neighborhoods along the route, each of the 10 stations will include attractive, green-landscaped mini-parks within the urban corridor. The stations will have easy access and connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods to encourage transit use. Additionally, a new, 5-mile, multi-use trail will improve access to the stations for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as promote opportunities to travel through the community using non-motorized green modes of travel. 

Finally, the new bus circulator and commuter routes allow riders to leave their cars behind to travel from their neighborhood or commuter lot, and connect to CTfastrak for work, school, or entertainment. 

Every CTfastrak station will include basic elements — multiple shelters with seating, bicycle racks, ticket vending machines, maps of routes and the surrounding neighborhood, and landscaping. Station platforms will be raised to allow fast, level boarding onto vehicles. Electronic displays at each station will let passengers know when their bus will be arriving, and closed-circuit cameras at the stations will enhance passenger security.

The stations will also include several sustainable, eco-friendly green features, such as pervious hardscape pavements, photovoltaic solar panel systems, LED lighting, and bike racks.

The stations and surrounding areas include natural and engineered drainage systems such as grass-lined swales, water quality basins, and disconnected impervious areas that will keep pollutants from reaching nearby brooks, groundwater, and wetlands.

For consistency, the architecture of every station is the same, with two basic structures. There is a shell with curved design shape and arches that use the same curve/geometric line but on end. The modular design incorporates some basic precast and structural steel elements that can be fabricated offsite and then brought to the station site for quick erection. 

Eco-friendly additives

Every effort was made to incorporate eco-friendly design into each of the 10 bus stations. In terms of environmental additives, the design team began with choosing materials that require a smaller environmental footprint. For example, the team chose natural stone pavers instead of concrete, and cast iron tactile warning strips instead of plastic for use along the platform edges and at pedestrian crossings. The shelter materials — stainless steel, glass, standing seam metal roofing, and precast concrete — were all selected for durability, longevity, and minimal maintenance requirements as well as their ability to minimize the long-term environmental footprint of the system.

Additionally, the CTfastrak network and stations are designed to improve the quality of waters and wetlands and encourage ecologically sustainable habitats for local wildlife in the area. Contractors will also improve surface water infiltration and drainage using natural and engineered drainage systems such as grass-lined swales, water quality basins, and disconnected impervious areas that will keep pollutants from reaching nearby brooks, groundwater, and wetlands. 

Where possible, the stormwater management systems for the stations were designed with water quality in mind. For example, the vehicle parking area at the Newington Junction Station includes a conventional catch basin drainage system that discharges to a vegetated water quality swale with a gravel subbase and underdrain system that filters all the runoff from most storm events before discharging it to an existing culvert under the Amtrak rail line. At Elmwood station, a bio-basin treats all the runoff from the site and a portion of the guideway before discharging it into the Trout Brook.

Soil awareness

In general, little could be done to enhance the environmental character of the bus guideway between the stations as it is primarily along railroad right-of-way. The CTfastrak corridor follows abandoned railroad corridors from New Britain to Newington Junction, and then continues to Hartford on a route that is adjacent to the active Amtrak rail line. 

However, since the route includes areas of past and present industrial and commercial activities, extensive environmental studies were conducted. The studies identified various areas where controlled soils may be present. These areas are carefully monitored throughout construction and remediation is performed as needed. 

Substantially complete

Construction of the BRT system started in May 2012. The guideway is complete as are the necessary bridges. All of the stations are under construction with substantial construction of the entire project on schedule for fall 2014, at which time the owner will begin testing the guideway and training drivers. 

Anticipated to open in 2015, the BRT line will offer motorists a public transportation alternative, reduce roadway congestion, and improve the region’s air quality by reducing the amount of single occupancy vehicles. It’s one of 17 BRT lines planned by the Federal Transit Administration across the country.

Al Bisacky, P.E, LEED AP, is Technical Practice leader – Civil with Kleinfelder in Rocky Hill, Conn.


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