Building equity: new Nebraska multimodal transit center

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: February 27, 2024

Bus operator vacancies nearly doubled in one year. Passengers didn’t have safe places to wait for buses in the evening. The bus station had more routes than bus bays, so the system needed to stagger routes leading to long waits for bus transfers. It was time for an upgrade, but it took the team eight attempts before they were able to successfully secure federal funding.

Lincoln, NE was awarded was awarded $23.7 million through a Rebuilding America Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant from the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The project had a local match of the site’s land, valued at about $8 million, and $900,000 from the local community.

The RAISE program, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, awarded 166 projects across 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands in FY2022, the year Lincoln received their grant. This innovative grant is competitive: since the program was first established in 2018, the DOT has received more than 12,466 applications for over $213 billion to fund capital transportation projects.

While the city first started exploring multimodal transit programs in 2004, it took them eight consecutive attempts to be awarded a federal grant for the capital project. The team continuously received feedback that their concept was strong, but didn’t demonstrate that it was “shovel ready.” The grant application team hired external consultancy WSP, which created a feasibility study that supported their successful 2022 application. Their study focused on why Lincoln needed a new multimodal transit transfer center (MTTC), and how it would positively impact the community.

Importance of Partnerships and Community

Lincoln’s successful RAISE application was driven largely by the project’s strong partnerships. The city’s mayor, Director of Transportation and Utilities, StarTran, the city-owned bus system, and the city-owned electric utility all championed the project and demonstrated their commitment through budgeting processes. The team also submitted letters of support from the mayor, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, and The Center for People in Need, a local nonprofit that supports low-income residents.

StarTran employees and consultants reached out to regular riders, many of whom were part of the community of Lincoln’s 30,000 refugees who speak 55 different languages. The team created online surveys, engaged riders on buses and at stations, and held several small events. Partners like the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce also solicited their networks, including Lincoln residents who didn’t use the bus.

Findings and Next Steps

In selecting a site, Lincoln sought to address the needs of underserved communities, often looking at areas within Climate and Economic Justice census tracts. The proposed facility offers amenities that will attract and retain employees. Indoor seating and restrooms, better lighting, off-street location, and security offices will help passengers feel safe. The MTTC will have designated spots for bike and scooter shares, a pedestrian connection to a 130-mile trail network, and bicycle storage.

Currently, 10 of StarTran’s 67 buses are electric. By 2040, StarTran’s goal is to run 100% of its fleet on electric, renewable, or alternative fuels. The MTTC design includes plans to accommodate this energy transition.

A cost-benefit analysis of the project predicted that over the 30 years, the new design will save about 1.8 million hours of travel time, a reduction of 3.6 million personal vehicle-miles traveled, and $20.3 million in economic benefits. The project is expected to be completed in 2025.


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