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GRTC extension into Chesterfield furthers regional transit connection

Driver Tabb stands in front of a GRTC bus
Ian M. Stewart
VPM News
GRTC driver Sean Tabb Sr. greeted future riders and gave them a tour of his bus at a recent "Meet the Bus" event held at the Chesterfield Towne Center.

The 1A route will run along Midlothian Turnpike, past Chesterfield Towne Center.

Starting Sunday, the Greater Richmond Transit Co. will expand its 1A line further into Chesterfield County with a new, eight-mile extension along Midlothian Turnpike.

“It's 27 stops extending from Spring Rock Green, where the 1A currently ends, out to Walmart Way, providing seven-days-a-week service from early in the morning to late at night,” said GRTC spokesperson Henry Bendon at a recent event at Chesterfield Towne Center.

Bendon said the new extension gives riders access to several grocery stores and other services in the county – and that rides are still fare-free.

“This is about access to health care and jobs and groceries. It’s essential living,” he said. “This bus runs every 30 minutes at its peak. It’s going into the Kroger at Spring Rock Green [soon to be Springline at District 60]; it’s going out here to Chesterfield Towne Center and then to Walmart.”

During off-peak hours, buses will run every 60 minutes in the evening and every 40 minutes on Sunday.

The new extension is a welcome sight for Chesterfield resident Richard Williams.

“I was hoping years ago that they will have one coming out here, and they finally do,” Williams said. “I also understand that it’s free. So, there should be no reason why people don't just jump on that bus and go downtown, and enjoy the downtown area that they probably never see.”

A map showing the new 1A bus route. It is a transit map that features Broad St. in green, with the core route highlighted in red.
A map showing the new 1A bus route.

Newly elected Chesterfield County Supervisor Jessica Schneider said having the 1A come farther into the county will get city residents to jobs.

“I've heard people say that they've applied for positions and then they weren't able to get to the job because they don't have transportation or they weren't able to get there without a car,” she said. “So, I think there's a great opportunity to work throughout our localities of the region to get people moving around and employed. If they can live in the city and take a bus here to work, that would be awesome.”

One of those looking to use the bus for work is Evan Lenhart.

“During the height of the pandemic, I had to choose between either paying for the apartment or the car, and I needed a place to live,” Lenhart said. “When they removed the price for the buses, it made it so I could get to work and keep living. I'm glad it's coming down here because I live down here now.”

Rides on all GRTC buses, including the Pulse, are currently fare-free.

First mile, last mile

The new extension came about after feasibility studies identified the best corridors to get transit further into the county, said Barb Smith, program manager with Chesterfield’s transportation department.

“We identified Route 1, Route 60 and Route 360. As a result of that study, we went after technical assistance grants with [Department of Rail and Public Transportation],” said Smith.

GRTC also now has service on Route 1 that stops at Brightpoint Community College and has ventured further along Route 60.

Part of the problem for potential new riders could come in how to catch the 1A to downtown Richmond. While many bus stops are near parking lots that let people park and ride, other stops will be sprinkled along Midlothian Turnpike, where a lack of sidewalks could prevent safe access to the bus.

Infrastructure and transportation engineers call this issue a “first mile, last mile” problem, which roughly means the distance between a riders starting point or first mile — such as home or work — needs to be short and safe enough for them to ditch their car. The last mile is where a rider gets off the bus and goes to their destination.

Smith, who’s also on the board of directors with GRTC, agreed that the first mile/last mile is a big issue in the county but said progress is being made in some areas.

“On Route 1, you can see we're making some progress and getting sidewalk or trail facilities built,” she said. “But it is a long, slow process. It's a long corridor. Same with Route 60.”

She said that some sidewalk projects are funded and underway, and that bus lines into the county have support from the board of supervisors.

“But again, we don't even have [sidewalks] funded all the way to Powhite,” Smith said. “So, between Chippenham and Powhite, we still have gaps that we need to get money for. It's all about the money, it costs $5 million to build a mile-and-a-half of sidewalk.”

The future of rapid transit 

In a 2023 State of Transit report by the nonprofit RVA Rapid Transit, an advocacy group working to get the entire Richmond region connected by transit, envisions 15-minute bus service to spots deep into the county by 2040.

But Bendon said 15-minute bus service and potential rapid transit lines, like the Pulse, extending into the county are still years away. He added that the 1A extension is only temporary; current funding to run the line will last a year.

“We know that there is a demand for public transit as a regional enterprise and Chesterfield County is a critically important part of the Richmond region,” said Bendon. “I think this Midlothian Turnpike transit access is just going to be the kick start of really great things out here.”

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.