What is Bus Rapid Transit? Is it a mass-transit panacea that will save commuters from traffic congestion on the Route 1 corridor. Is it another pie-in-the-sky scheme concocted by traffic planners that sounds good on paper but won’t work in the real world? Or is it something in between those two extremes?##M:[more]##

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) initiative being studied by the state can attend a public forum being sponsored by New Jersey Transit on Tuesday, January 25. The forum will be held in two sessions at the Plainsboro municipal building from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

The meetings will introduce attendees to the concept of BRT, outline the state’s ongoing analysis study, and answer questions about the initiative.

Last year New Jersey Transit (NJT) approved an alternative analysis study to evaluate the feasibility of a possible BRT system along the Route 1 corridor. BRT makes use of high-tech vehicles resembling a hybrid bus/trains that can travel on specially-designed “guideways” as well as regular roads. The service would be supplemented by feeder routes — bus lines throughout Mercer and lower Middlesex counties that tie into the main BRT line.

NJT is working in conjunction with the Central New Jersey Transportation Forum (CNJTF), a regional planning group working to define and evaluate long-range transportation strategies and projects.

The CNJTF, comprised of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and New Jersey Department of Transportation, will evaluate whether the findings of a BRT system could significantly increase transit use in the area and provide an alternative to automobile travel.

Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, a member of the CNJTF says the group believes that BRT has “significant potential for region. We’re optimistic it can work in this type of environment.”

“This is a much-needed system that has been very successful in other areas of the country,” says West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, a supporter of BRT. “If we don’t do something here, this area is going to become just like North Jersey in terms of traffic congestion.”

Bus rapid transit systems are already operating successfully worldwide, and in 14 cities in the United States including Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Hartford, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.

“West Windsor has been pushing very hard for the whole region to reach a consensus on BRT and make it a priority,” says Hsueh. “It started here with the Sarnoff property.”

When the Sarnoff Corporation was granted approval for a 3 million-square-foot office complex in 2002, the township required that bus rapid transit be integrated. In addition, West Windsor will now require applicants to provide for bus rapid transit in all future commercial development applications.

Those plans also include the 650-acre former American Cyanamid property at the corner of Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road. According to Hsueh, the owners of the tract have already agreed to include bus rapid transit in the commercial/residential development planned for the property.

The proposed BRT line calls for construction of a guideway on a strip between Route 1 and the Amtrak mainline from Lawrence to South Brunswick townships. Stops could include Quakerbridge Mall, a complex built on the Cyanamid property, Carnegie Center, the Princeton Junction train station, Sarnoff’s office complex, the Merrill Lynch and Squibb complexes on Scudders Mill Road, Forrestal Center, and Ridge Road. The plan also includes a line that runs into downtown Princeton utilizing the existing Dinky Railroad or a bus that would run along the same route.

The recent study by the Greater Mercer TMA forecast that daily ridership of the BRT system could be as high as 21,"000, and also listed some cost estimates to implement various aspects of the project, including annual operating costs of between $2 million and $10 million.

For the guideways, GMTMA estimated costs of $750,"000 per mile to reconstruct the shoulders on roadways to accommodate BRT; $2 million per mile to widen roadways; $5 million per mile to construct dedicated BRT lanes; and $4 million per mile to convert the Dinky railroad line.

Cost estimates for stations include $2 million to $4 million for park and rides; $5 million to $7 million for the gateway facilities at both ends of the main BRT line; and $200,"000 to $400,"000 for 13 stations along the line.