Metro Council plans to assess BRT properties

August 18, 2009
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Even though voters in six Kent County cities rejected a millage request in May for faster transit service along the Division Avenue business sector, the Grand Valley Metro Council still plans to evaluate the environmental conditions of the commercial properties along the proposed bus route.

The council announced in May that it had received two site assessment grants from the Chicago office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Each grant is worth $200,000. One is for hazardous substances, while the other is for petroleum-based substances.

The properties along the 10-mile corridor that will be evaluated are in Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood and near Gaines Township. The idea is to get those sites redeveloped commercially after the baseline environmental assessments are done.

GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula is serving as the project’s manager and the council’s Senior Planner Jay Hoekstra will manage the daily activities.

Stypula said the council has to create a comprehensive plan for the project, along with a three-year budget. The agency will request bids from environmental engineering consultants for the work. He felt the baseline assessments would cost the council about $325,000.

“The Right Place is a partner with us on the project,” said Stypula of the region’s nonprofit, economic development agency.

Stypula also said GVMC is considering holding a second design charrette for the corridor because the first one elicited a number of good ideas of what is needed along the highly traveled stretch. But he added that the council didn’t have the funding available to pay for the charrette and he would look for a sponsor.

He didn’t feel the transit service died a quick death in the voting booths last spring.

“I’m confident that we will come back to voters maybe next year, or the year after, for the BRT,” said Stypula.

The BRT, for Bus Rapid Transit, is a proposed bus service that would make daily runs along Division Avenue from 60th Street SE near Gaines Township to downtown Grand Rapids. It was proposed by the Interurban Transit Partnership, which has secured $32 million in federal funds, along with $8 million from the state, for the service that would begin running in 2012.

But for ITP to have collected the public dollars, voters in Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, Walker, East Grand Rapids and Grandville had to renew the ITP’s millage of 1.12 mills and approve an additional 0.16 mills for the service, named the Silver Line. They didn’t. A successful millage would have given ITP nearly $14 million in 2012, its first collection year.

The Silver Line would have 19 stations. ITP officials said the route would create more than 400 new and permanent jobs, added roughly $15 million each year to the local economy, and would give property owners a reason to invest in the commercial corridor. ITP planned to use new hybrid buses on the route.

Despite the millage defeat, ITP Executive Director Peter Varga said federal approval for the project is still in place and funding from the federal highway transportation agency is still available. He also said officials with the federal government understand that many transit millages are approved after first failing.

“We are actually in the planning stage,” said Varga. “We have started a listening phase with the general public. It will get started in August.”

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