ConstructionsToday

2022 could be a big year for new transit openings if delays, shortages abate

Dive Brief:

  • More than three times as many transit construction projects are scheduled for completion this year than in 2021, according to data compiled by Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute and owner of The Transport Politic. These include dedicated busways, bus rapid transit, rail and streetcar projects. 
  • Pandemic-related issues, including worker and materials shortages, delayed the finish of many bus and rail projects last year, but major initiatives including the East Side Access project in New York City and the first phase of Honolulu’s elevated rail transit line are expected to open in 2022.
  • However, despite the passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure law, only a handful of new projects may get underway and other existing projects may be delayed if these same issues continue, Freemark said.

Dive Insight:

The slow place of completions in 2021 serves as a caution for the projected opening dates of upcoming transit projects, according to Freemark, who has collected data on transit construction projects for 13 years. He explained that because so many were delayed last year, “That should raise questions as to whether the projects that we think will be completed in 2022 will actually be completed in 2022.” He also cited rising construction costs as another impediment. 

Transportation agencies in the U.S. are targeting the completion of 22 fixed-guideway transit projects by the end of this year. (Fixed guideway projects include all rail lines along with dedicated bus lanes and bus rapid transit that set aside roadways or portions thereof for exclusive use by buses.) Just seven were completed in 2021. 

Major rail projects scheduled to open this year include the nation’s first fully automated rail transit line, which will begin service from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), based in Washington D.C., is preparing an 11.4-mile extension of the Silver Line to Dulles Airport in Virginia for passenger service. And the $11 billion East Side Access project will relieve congestion at Penn Station with a new station at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.


“But the change has really been that cities are taking the idea of bus priority more seriously.”

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Yonah Freemark

Senior Research Associate, Urban Institute


Long-awaited light rail projects in Boston and Los Angeles are also due for completion this year, as is San Francisco’s Central Subway. Two streetcar extensions, in Seattle and Milwaukee, along with the new Tempe, Arizona, streetcar, are scheduled to open this year.

Nine bus rapid transit projects are also in the works for 2022. “One of the biggest trends has been an increase in projects that include dedicated lanes for buses,” said Freemark. “But the change has really been that cities are taking the idea of bus priority more seriously.” 

Not included in the roundup of transit projects is the expected completion this year of Brightline’s Orlando, Florida extension, enabling through service from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. 

Yet, before more projects can get started, Congress needs to pass a budget for fiscal year 2022. So far, two continuing resolutions have been enacted, the second of which expires on Feb. 18. A third would fund the federal government until March 11, but that still leaves many new transportation programs delayed until appropriations are finalized.

Freemark identified several communities where projects could begin to move forward when the money starts to flow. These include the West Valley Connector between San Bernardino and Riverside, California; a 13-mile bus rapid transit line in Northern Arizona serving the Flagstaff Pulliam Regional Airport and the North-South bus rapid transit system in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

But, Freemark added, “Whether the money can go out quickly enough for construction and whether the cities are actually prepared is unclear at the moment.”

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