While visible roadway construction activity has been ongoing on U.S. 36 for nearly a year, work by the Regional Transportation District to prepare for prime time the corridor's critical transit element has occurred largely behind the scenes.
That's about to change.
Next month, RTD will begin picking a color for the 10-foot by 30-foot canopies that will provide shelter at each of the six bus stations up and down the highway. It also will begin working with a contractor to choose a programmable information display -- listing bus arrival and departure times -- bright and crisp enough to be read in direct sunlight.
And later this month, RTD will conduct an online survey to gauge what the public wants to see in the bus rapid transit, or BRT, vehicles that will roll up and down U.S. 36 in a dedicated lane starting in early 2016.
Nadine Lee, program manager for U.S. 36 BRT, said her agency will probably have to order the fleet of 59 buses by the end of this year.
"What we're trying to find out from our existing passengers is what they like about the service right now and what they don't like," she said.
There are special considerations when it comes to purchasing BRT buses over conventional coach buses, Lee said.
Because BRT service tries to mimic train service in its regularity and convenience, the buses are generally built low to the ground to allow for easy and quick boarding. But they are often equipped with less powerful engines, Lee said, which could pose a particular problem on the hill heading out of Boulder.
"It's quite a hill we have to get up -- it's not a condition you see everywhere," she said of the 5 percent grade heading up to Davidson Mesa. "It's a difficult operating environment."
Lee also said features commuters have become accustomed to on buses, such as cargo space for bikes and luggage, will have to compete with passenger capacity, whether it's on a 40-foot-long model or a 60-foot-long articulated bus.
"If we want to have the same luggage and cargo space we have today, we may have to give up seating," she said.
Lee said RTD is trying to take clues from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which is getting ready to launch a 42-mile BRT service between Aspen and Glenwood Springs in September. RTD may even get a chance to test out one of Roaring Fork's BRT buses on U.S. 36 next month.
Dawn Mullally Chase, marketing and communications manager for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, said her agency's research found that because of the length of the route on Colo. 82, passengers really want extra leg room and well-padded seats for the hour-long commute.
"We cut out a couple of rows of seats to do that," Chase said.
She said Roaring Fork is anticipating a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in ridership once the service starts.
"Because of the efficiencies of BRT, people who don't like waiting long for a bus now decide they'll give it a go with BRT," she said.