Economic Development, Government, and Travel & Tourism

Bus rapid transit system gets $32M federal boost

October 18, 2012
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Bus rapid transit system gets $32M federal boost
A rendering of a stop along the planned bus rapid transit Silver Line, connecting downtown, Kentwood and Wyoming. Courtesy The Rapid

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff visited Grand Rapids Thursday to announce an agreement to provide a $32 million construction grant to Grand Rapids for the Silver Line bus rapid transit system, to be operated by The Rapid.

“With these federal funds, thousands of people in the area are going to have great access downtown along the Medical Mile,” Rogoff said. “Some 30,000 jobs in the central business district will be within one quarter mile of this new bus rapid transit system. It’s going to be great access, and it’s going to be bus rapid transit done right.

“It’s going to have brand new vehicles -- vehicles where you buy your fares off the bus, so there’s no lining up on the bus. These buses are going to have what’s called signal priority, which means when they approach a red light, the red light turns green and keeps people moving through the line. It’s a great time savings for all the people connecting to downtown, to the residential communities like Kentwood and Wyoming.”

The BRT line, which is the first in the state, is expected to increase access to jobs for the surrounding work force, encourage additional development along the route and serve as a model for other cities in Michigan.

Rogoff noted that the BRT line will decrease travel times by 40 percent from the residential communities of Kentwood and Wyoming into downtown, creating a substantial quality-of-life impact for public-transportation riders.

Also in attendance at the signing were Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Kentwood Mayor Richard Clanton, Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll, The Rapid Board Chair Barb Holt and The Rapid CEO Peter Varga.

Calley reiterated that the area would serve as a model for the rest of the state, particularly for the southeast side of Michigan, which desperately needs to solve its own transportation challenges.

The Silver Line BRT will cover 9.6 miles, including the Division Avenue corridor.

“One thing it’s going to mean is that we are going to be able to move people a lot quicker into Grand Rapids,” Clanton said. “Like I said, job creation, jobs that people have to get to, that is the most important part. The other important part to Kentwood is that it is going to allow us to do some economic development. We have some underdeveloped property on Division. I think it is going to allow those developers to come in and make a sense of place there.”

Restaurant owner Tommy Brann also spoke at the signing, reinforcing the need on Division Avenue for the BRT line. Brann expects that the line will have a substantial impact on development for the street as well as increase his workers’ ability to get to and from their jobs.

Poll said that in Wyoming alone, ridership increased 38 percent over the past five years.

“We are very excited in the city of Wyoming to be a part of this,” Poll said. “We truly believe that public transit is the catalyst that brings progress into our cities, and as we are connecting with our partners along this line, we know that it is going to be a real benefit for Wyoming.”

Construction on the project will begin in the spring, and the line is expected to be operational in 2014.

“I think you are going to see the ridership impact very quickly,” Clanton said.

The Rapid provided more than 11.9 million rides last year, which was a record for the organization. It also received a nice show of support from the community when voters approved a millage increase in 2011.

The project total is $39 million, with the other 20 percent of funding coming from state grants. Local funds, including the 2011 transit millage, will be used for the annual operation of the project. Currently, only a portion of the millage is being levied. When the BRT is fully operational, the additional 0.06 mills will be levied to cover operations.

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