Council Boards Railway Program
Council members ratified a marketing program for the Pere Marquette passenger rail line that runs daily from Grand Rapids to Chicago and back.
They also backed a request to fund a Property Development Rights (PDR) program for fruit growers in three townships.
Concerning the Pere Marquette, the council board approved a $94,000 program to promote ridership on the line.
Council members, acting for the West Michigan Passenger Rail Collaborative (WESTRAIN), awarded the contract to Sharp Marketing of Grand Rapids, which won the competitive bid from WESTRAIN.
The Michigan Department of Transportation still must approve the contract, because state money will fund the program.
The Metro Council has an agreement with MDOT to oversee the rail service run by Amtrak.
“We don’t expect any changes to this,” said Abed Itani, GVMC transportation director.
Amtrak reported that ridership for the Pere Marquette line rose by 22 percent during the past fiscal year, the second highest increase among the 44 lines operated by the rail service.
In FY03, 73,392 passengers rode the line compared to 60,127 in FY02.
All of Amtrak’s short-distance lines saw an increase of 2.2 percent, which was only one-tenth of the rise that the Pere Marquette recorded. Itani said the line’s revenue grew by 6 percent over that fiscal year.
WESTRAIN is based in Grand Rapids and has members in Holland, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Bangor and New Buffalo, cities on the Pere Marquette line.
“We are pleased with the ridership increases and will continue our local efforts working with MDOT and Amtrak to promote the train in West Michigan,” said Jim Snell, chairman of WESTRAIN.
“With continued cooperation and involvement from all of the stakeholders, there is no reason this trend shouldn’t continue.”
With respect to fruit growers, GVMC agreed to write a letter of support for a grant proposal that was submitted by the Kent County Agricultural Board to the Frey Foundation.
The county group has asked the foundation to contribute $300,000 to next year’s farmland preservation effort.
Frey was chosen because it is active in the movement and has expressed an interest in preserving land in Alpine, Sparta and Tyrone townships, largely known for fruit production.
The county agriculture board also has requested $2 million from the federal farm and ranchland protection account, which has a budget of $125 million for 2004.
Board members said they wanted to preserve 2,000 acres of prime farmland in Kent County next year and they’ve estimated the cost of doing that at $4 million.
Jay Hoekstra, a senior land planner with the Metro Council, explained that the average cost to preserve an acre of farmland in Michigan is $2,000, which is well below the state mandated limit of $5,000.
But Metro Council member-at-large Mick McGraw, a real estate developer who served on Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s land-use council, felt it might not be the best time to spend public money to preserve private land with the deficits the state, cities and townships are facing.
He also said that a Kalamazoo real estate appraiser told him that the cost to preserve an acre is higher than its market price.