Economic Development, Sustainability, and Travel & Tourism

The Rapid is looking for gold in new Silver Line

State’s first Bus Rapid Transit project is dedicated this week.

April 5, 2013
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Rapid is looking for gold in new Silver Line
The state's first Bus Rapid Transit system will zip up and down Division Avenue in Grand Rapids. Gov. Rick Snyder will be in town Thursday to officially kick off the project, which will become operational in August 2014.

After a decade of planning, groundbreaking events were held last week. But the official kickoff for The Rapid’s $39 million Division Avenue Bus Rapid Transit service will take place Thursday when Gov. Rick Snyder arrives to signal its start.

The BRT, also known as the “Silver Line,” is a first in the state. The express transit service will run from 60th Street in Gaines Township to Bostwick Avenue NE in downtown Grand Rapids and back, largely moving along Division Avenue before it veers onto Wealthy Street on its way to downtown employment centers.

The service, which will take on the aspect of a light-rail offering at about a 10th of the cost, will become operational in August 2014.

Construction on 29 of the system’s 33 stations is getting underway this year, with the remaining four to be completed by June 2014. Each station will take up to 14 weeks to build, and all will feature amenities not usually found at bus stops, including security cameras, emergency phones and fare vending machines. All sites also will be landscaped.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” said Bill Kirk, public outreach coordinator for The Rapid, the area’s public transit system.

Kirk said work will be done on nine stations at a time, with three being built at both ends of the line and in the route’s middle section to spread the effects of construction across the route rather than having it heavily impact traffic and businesses.

“We’re trying to minimize the congestion and interference. We’re working with the property owners to keep them informed,” said Kirk.

A single station will be built at each end of the system to serve both north- and southbound trips. However, at the route’s stops, such as 28th Street, a station will be constructed on both the east and west sides of the street. Utilities will be moved as part of the project and some will go underground.

CDM Smith, IVNA and URS have served as consultants. The Christman Co. will manage the project. “Christman will be hiring a lot of subcontractors,” said Kirk.

The Rapid will buy 10 new buses for the BRT; eight will be used for the service during morning and afternoon drive times. The buses will be 40 feet long and will offer level boarding at the stations so lifts won’t be needed for wheelchairs.

Both right lanes along Division Avenue, from 60th Avenue to Wealthy Street, will be designated for the BRT and for commuters making right turns off Division during peak travel times. Outside of those hours, the right lanes along that stretch will be open to everyday traffic.

Kirk said Division Avenue was chosen for the state’s first BRT because The Rapid transports from 3,500 to 4,000 customers per day on the current route.

“Division Avenue gets a 40 percent fare recovery, which is really, really high,” he said.

He said the Lake Michigan Drive route on the city’s northwest side is likely the next BRT route.

Roughly 80 percent of the funding for the Silver Line is coming from the federal government’s Very Small Starts program. The rest is expected to come from fares, state funds and property-tax receipts. Voters in six cities approved a millage increase of 0.35 mills for seven years in May 2011, in addition to renewing the basic 1.12 mills transit millage. The increase was projected to give the system another $15 million annually over those seven years.

Similar BRTs have been running in Cleveland, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Eugene, Ore. In July of last year, the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C., reported properties near transit infrastructure have increased in value.

In downtown Eugene, for example, values rose by 105 percent after three years of BRT service, and by 130 percent around the University of Oregon. After three years of service in Cleveland, the value of property near University Circle went up by 30 percent.

“We’re just excited. It’s the first in Michigan,” said Kirk. “Fifteen years ago, they were talking about light rail. Now they’re talking about BRT.”

More Silver Line information is available at ridetherapid.org/BRT.

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