4 mass transit projects comparable to the U2C in price

Billed as a project that will take Jacksonville and downtown to the next level, the conversion of the Skyway into a one-of-a-kind autonomous transit system called the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) has become a popular topic around town. Either people tend to love it, hate it or have feelings but keep quiet for political and job securities sake. Nevertheless, how it compares in costs to other recently completed mass transit projects across the country and how taxpayers can get more value for their investment are rarely discussed in those conversations. To jump start that conversation, here are few mass transit projects across the country that were recently completed for a similar cost per mile.

About the U2C

A ride inside the autonomous shuttle service that operates in mixed traffic in Lake Nona. Founded by the international investment organization Tavistock Group and developed by Tavistock Development Company, Lake Nona is a nationally-recognized forward-thinking, smart city within the City of Orlando, located a few miles southwest of Orlando International Airport. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Facing a 2025 federal grant completion deadline, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) could begin construction later this year on phase one of an ambitious plan to replace the JTA Skyway monorail system in Downtown Jacksonville with a fleet of autonomous vehicles. Locally, the project is known as the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C).

While human drivers will be necessary for the foreseeable future, the Bay Street Innovation Corridor (BSIC) or phase one, is a 3.2-mile, $49 million project that won’t include dedicated transit lanes. Instead, U2C vehicles will share existing travel lanes on Bay Street with existing automobile traffic. Overall, it could cost taxpayers more than $450 million to pay for the full U2C system, which includes conversion of the Skyway infrastructure and short extensions into Riverside, San Marco and Springfield. That breaks down to roughly $40 million per mile in construction costs. Here are four mass transit projects that cost slightly higher or significantly lower than the anticipated U2C figure.

1. El Paso Streetcar

El Paso, TX

The El Paso Streetcar

  • Technology: Heritage Streetcar (Refurbished PCC Streetcars)
  • Year Completed: 2018
  • Length: 4.8 miles
  • Total Construction Cost: $20 million per mile
  • Construction Cost Per Mile: $97 million

Operated by Sun Metro and completed in November 2018 at the cost of $97 million or $20 million per mile, the El Paso Streetcar system is designed as a 4.8 mile loop connecting Downtown El Paso with El Segundo Barrio, Uptown and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Unique among recently completed streetcar systems, the El Paso project utilizes refurbished Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) Streetcars from the city’s original streetcar system, which was dismantled in the 1970s, as the rolling stock.

Although the PCC Streetcars were originally introduced during the 1930s, each car has been refurbished to include modern amenities, such as air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, CCTV cameras, bike racks (3 on each vehicle), ADA accessibility and modern propulsion.

2. GRTC Pulse

Richmond, AV

The GRTC Pulse in Richmond, VA (wbur.org)

  • Technology: Bus Rapid Transit
  • Year Completed: June 24, 2018
  • Length: 7.6 miles
  • Construction Costs: $65 million
  • Construction Costs per mile: $8.6 million

The GRTC Pulse is a modern, high quality, high capacity bus rapid transit (BRT) system that was developed through a partnership that included the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth of Virginia (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation - DRPT and Virginia Department of Transportation - VDOT), the City of Richmond and Henrico County. The BRT system’s 7.6-mile route includes dedicated bus lanes along Broad and Main Streets, connecting Downtown Richmond with several urban core neighborhoods, destinations, businesses, services and restaurants.