A History and the Future of Train or Bus Rapid Transit

Posted January 18, 2024
Iowa City transit studies

Local transit authorities in Iowa City, Coralville, and the University of Iowa, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Johnson County, are actively pursuing innovative transit solutions as a part of their commitment to the All in Vision plan including pursuit of a “well-connected mobile region.” Recently, these stakeholders unanimously voted to delve into the feasibility of implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the existing Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway corridor and a study is currently underway. This initiative is part of the collective commitment to explore sustainable alternatives for transportation. The study is a collaborative effort, with contributions from Iowa City, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Johnson County, North Liberty, Coralville, and the University of Iowa.


Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a high-capacity transit system known for its speed and efficiency. It incorporates dedicated lanes, busways, traffic signal priority, and other features that make it a reliable and swift mode of transportation. MPO members decided to explore the potential of adapting the CRANDIC railway corridor for a BRT system, positioning itself as a forward-thinking community invested in sustainable transit options.


A key aspect of this exploration involves comparing the BRT system with previous proposals for rail transit. Earlier studies considered options like light rail, commuter rail, and even passenger rail services between Iowa City and North Liberty. To provide context, a cost breakdown of various transit options has been presented, including the streetcar, light rail, and commuter rail. The ongoing study aims to assess the economic, business, and community impacts of each alternative.


Previous proposals for rail transit, such as the Iowa City – Cedar Rapids Passenger Rail (2015) and Iowa City – North Liberty Passenger Rail (2016), were explored but faced challenges. The implementation costs and ongoing expenses for rail options were substantial. Additionally, a Rails-to-Trails Conversion in 2020 concluded that certain segments of the CRANDIC right-of-way may not accommodate a multi-use trail alongside the existing tracks.


The current BRT study signifies the region’s commitment to finding a sustainable and cost-effective transit solution. Greater Iowa City, Inc. (Greater IC) staff continue to track and engage in this work. We are deeply committed to leading this effort in our community and are participating in the study stakeholder group through our Sr. Director of Economic Development, Austin Korns. As the region moves forward with this exploration, its commitment to the All In Vison plan‘s Pillar III, fostering a well-connected and mobile region, is evident in its proactive efforts to invest in reliable regional transit. By considering sustainable alternatives like BRT, Greater IC is charting a course towards a future that prioritizes efficient, accessible, and environmentally friendly transportation options.