Recovery act 'truly meaningful' for local transit

March 27, 2009
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The economic recovery act has been very good to public transit in greater Grand Rapids.

“It is truly meaningful for us, and I suspect it is for anybody who has been needing money and was ready to go on projects, whether it be purchasing new buses or expanding a facility like us,” said Peter Varga, executive director of The Rapid. “I hear from a lot of my transit friends across the country that they’re very pleased to be able to move projects forward.”

The bill includes an extra $600,000 for the Silver Line bus rapid transit line under the federal government’s Capital Investments program, an amount that will cover part of the environmental work and some of the preliminary engineering for the bus rapid transit project, Varga said. There is also a $3.8 million allocation for the Amtrak rail station relocation from Market Street to land south of The Rapid Central Station bus terminal.

Under the act, The Rapid will receive a $10.6 million apportionment for public transit, which will allow The Rapid to advance its Wealthy Operations Facility project by two years. That’s the amount apportioned to transit systems in urban areas with populations between 200,000 and 1 million. The funds don’t require a state match and must be obligated 180 days after the federal Register issues a final apportionment number, Varga indicated.

The Rapid has to expand its maintenance bays at its operations facility and add more bays that can handle both 40-foot and 60-foot buses, Varga said. As part of the project, current office space will be moved to an adjacent building on the north side of the operating facility, and the facility’s storage area will be expanded outward to accommodate at least 155 to 160 buses. The Rapid purchased some additional city property in order to do that, he noted, and is also in negotiations with the county to purchase the property on which its recycling center is located. Varga said the project will cost about $33 million and that The Rapid already has $7 million under grant for it.

“We’ve put in for money for that project in the next application for funds, and we plan on using two more formula apportionments to complete the project,” he told the Business Journal. “We also have asked Congress for additional monies to speed it up.”

Varga told the board Wednesday that some states have already said that they’re not going to spend their apportionment, which means that money has to go back into the pot. He said staff is going to monitor the situation and if more funding becomes available, they will pursue more for the operations facility.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved a $2.17 million contract with Progressive AE for design and engineering work on the center. Progressive expects to start the project around Sept. 1. The board also approved a second $172,688 contract with Progressive for ancillary services that would cover LEED design and geotechnical services, among a few other necessary services. According to Progressive’s schedule, Phase 1 will include renovations to the administrative and driver support areas of the facility and will take five months to complete. Phase II will include renovations to the maintenance area that will require eight months to finish. Phase III will see the demolition of the Kent County Recycling Facility, construction of an underground parking facility for employees and an extension of the garage storage area. Progressive expects the whole project will be completed by the fourth quarter of 2011.

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