Fresno Area Express could get $17.8 million from President Barack Obama's proposed budget to begin work on a "bus rapid transit" system that would link River Park, downtown Fresno and the planned Fancher Creek project in southeast Fresno.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that Fresno's bus system is among 10 new transit construction projects included in the fiscal year 2012 budget request unveiled Monday.
Fresno's project "will go a long way toward providing the connections that low-income riders and other transit-dependent citizens count on, while opening the door to new economic development along this bus rapid transit corridor," LaHood said in a written statement.
But the money's survival through Washington's budget process is anything but certain amid growing concerns about federal spending.
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"The president's budget is only a framework, which at this point looks like it is based on fantasy numbers," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
John Downs, planning division manager for Fresno's transportation department, said Tuesday he is confident Fresno's grant request will survive the congressional budget process.
"This is the kind of project that has been going on in other communities for a long time," Downs said.
The system would use a variety of techniques, like limited stops and extended green lights for buses, to provide faster bus service along a corridor linking the Woodward Park/River Park area in north Fresno and southeast Fresno.
A passenger on the express line would see a 25% to 30% time reduction, Downs said.
He said fares on the express line would be the same as on a regular FAX line. The base fare is $1.25.
The entire system is estimated to cost $48.2 million, with $38.6 million coming from the federal government over three years and about $9.6 million from other sources.
Downs said the city hopes to get most or all of the $9.6 million from a state grant.
The proposed federal grant would enable the city to complete the planning. If all funding is approved, Downs said, the express line along Kings Canyon Road and Blackstone Avenue would begin operating in July 2013.
Downs said city officials and local transportation advocates already are discussing Fresno's next bus rapid transit routes.
He said a Shaw Avenue route is a leading contender, as are routes on Cedar and Clovis avenues.
"Public transportation [in Fresno] needs to step into this century," Downs said. Bus rapid transit "is a mechanism to do that."