City of Raleigh

Public transportation has come a long way since the 1970s, when the concepts of sustainability and greater efficiency were still in their nascent stages. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Raleigh, N.C., has continuously updated its fleet of public buses to keep up with the demand its growing population has placed on its transit system.

As the city’s bus fleet continues to grow, however, it puts additional strain on the facilities built to service them. For example, the city’s current transit operations building was designed to comfortably service about 50 buses, according to Richard Kelly, the city’s construction projects administrator. Today, that same facility is tasked with serving nearly 125 buses, creating some extremely cramped conditions inside the facility and resulting in service delays.

That was the impetus for one of the city’s most recent infrastructure projects – a new $23.8 million Transit Operations Center. Kelly says the new facility provides some much-needed breathing room for the city’s public transportation system, while updating its service capabilities for buses and instituting a number of sustainability initiatives. “What we are trying to accomplish with that is it is a replacement facility for an existing facility that was built back in the ‘70s and currently serves as the administration, the maintenance base – anything associated with our transit operations,” Kelly says.

Breathing Room

The new Transit Operations Center, which is being constructed by contractor Brasfield & Gorrie, will include a 27,400-square-foot, two-story operations and administration building. Along with the administration building, the project also includes a single-story, 57,000-square-foot maintenance facility; a 7,500-square-foot bus washing facility; and a two-lane fueling depot building. According to the city, the new facility will be able to accommodate 125 buses, and can be expanded to accommodate approximately 200 buses in the future.

Kelly says the new facility will make it much easier for the city to maintain and repair its buses.

“The biggest thing is the need for more space and some more up-to-date facilities to maintain the fleet,” he says.

The facility has been designed for maximum efficiency in every aspect of its function, according to Kelly. For example, it has been designed to allow for drive-through capacity for buses wherever possible. This eliminates the needs to back buses into service areas or find holding areas for buses in line to be serviced. The maintenance facility has been built to provide greater accessibility for mechanics, as well. Previously, the old facility used a lift system to give mechanics access to the underside of buses. The new facility features both trenches for mechanics to get underneath buses without the need of a lift, as well as, portable lifts to use where needed.

Another significant feature of the new Transit Operations Center’s maintenance facility is that many functions, such as the painting and washing of buses, are given their own designated areas. In the previous facility, these functions were often performed in the same spots, making it difficult to coordinate activities and often leaving buses waiting for the space to be open. “The process will be smoother, the access to the equipment will be much improved and we will be able to do more vehicles at any given time,” Kelly says.

Greener Features

Along with providing the city’s public transit system with a more efficient facility, the new Transit Operations Center will contribute to the city’s green efforts, as well. Kelly says ensuring the project met LEED specifications has been one of the most important aspects of the work, as the city’s position is that all projects built by the city in the future must meet at least LEED Silver certification. “It’s just an effort from the city council down that Raleigh be progressive on sustainability,” he says. “They are very supportive of any sustainability efforts.”

According to the city, the collected green features found in the Transit Operations Center are expected to qualify the project for LEED Platinum status. This would make it the first integrated administration and maintenance facility of its kind in the nation to achieve LEED Platinum status, the city adds.

Among the green and sustainable features being implemented in the Transit Operations Center are:

  • Geothermal wells for heating and air conditioning
  • Radiant floor heating in the maintenance building to maintain optimal thermal conditions
  • White roofs and concrete instead of asphalt to reflect heat rather than absorb it
  • Natural lighting through skylights and windows
  • Motion sensors on artificial lighting fixtures
  • High-efficiency plumbing fixtures
  • Cisterns to collect rainwater for recycling.

Along with these features, Kelly says the new facility also will feature a community garden where employees will be able to grow their own sustainable vegetables.

Smooth Collaboration

The new Transit Operations Center is being built as a design/build project, and the construction work got underway in late October 2009. Kelly inherited the project in mid-stream when he took on his current position in June 2010, and says the smooth collaboration between the city and Brasfield & Gorrie made it easy for him to acclimate himself to the Transit Operations Center project. “They have worked hand-in-hand with the city and the city’s staff,” Kelly says.

“Brasfield & Gorrie is excited to have the opportunity to partner with the city of Raleigh to build this state-of-the-art facility for this growing community,” the contractor said in a statement shortly after receiving the contract.

The company is one of the best-know general contractors in the nation, ranking in the top 30 of Engineering News-Record’s top 400 contractors list as well as ranking 235 on Forbes’ list of America’s largest privately held companies. Cline Design is serving as the architect of record on this project. Kelly says the project’s success to date also is due in large part to the work of the many key subcontractors on the site. These include National Quarry Services, a North Carolina-based drilling and blasting company that performed line-drilling services on the project. Kelly says he’s heard “nothing but good things” about National Quarry Services from Brasfield & Gorrie. Overall, he says, the hard work and determination of all involved has made the Transit Operations Center project a successful one so far. “It’s been a very good project from both a construction and also a design point of view,” he says.

The other component of the project’s success has been Project Manager Gil Johnson, who reports directly to Kelly. Kelly says Johnson has provided the essential continuity throughout the project, and has played a vital role in helping it remain on schedule and budget. In addition, the efforts of Williard Ferm Architects, the city’s design consultant, have been instrumental in providing an attractive and efficient facility which represents the leading edge in sustainable design.“What I’ve tried to do is support Gil and support the team anyway I can,” Kelly says. “My effort has been more one of support for the ongoing team that’s been in place.”

That support will be crucial as the project reaches the home stretch. Kelly says the city is counting on the new Transit Operations Center being ready this spring. “The sooner we can [finish], the sooner they can operate more efficiently,” Kelly says.

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