Economic Development, Government, and Travel & Tourism

The Rapid looks down the road to Laker Line

City’s second BRT route would connect GVSU and downtown.

May 30, 2014
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With one bus rapid transit line almost complete, The Rapid is setting its sights on the Laker Line.

“It’s in the public process and listening phase,” said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid. “We are getting input and having listening sessions. Once we have the study completed and have that analysis done, then that will determine how things move forward.”

The Laker Line BRT route would go from the Kirkhof Center on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus into downtown Grand Rapids, providing better and faster connectivity between the two areas.

“We are essentially going to switch from a Route 50 to a Laker Line with the university,” Varga said, referring to The Rapid’s current GVSU campus connector line.

“We know we are going to end up on Michigan and Lafayette. The last remaining piece is to see what alignment is going to be used to go from (Grand Valley’s) Pew Campus to Michigan and Lafayette. I think we are pretty close to knowing what that is.”

Once the route is finalized and The Rapid board approves the plan, Varga said the next step will be to present it to the federal government and begin the project development phase. The project development phase means the Laker Line will be in the funding pipeline, but Varga said there is no telling how long it will take to gain funding approval from the feds.

“The question is, how much volume is in their pipeline? How many projects? How much money?” he said.

Those are some of the factors that determine when a BRT project will get the green light.

“The (Obama) administration has proposed a four-year financial plan for transportation, which includes a significant investment in bus rapid transit in the United States,” he said. “That’s a good proposal. The question is, what’s the House going to do and what’s the Senate going to do?”

He said he doesn’t expect Congress will pass a multiyear bill, and that means funding approval will likely take longer.

Working in The Rapid’s favor is its successful completion of the Silver Line. “We have a good track record, and that is a good selling point for building another one,” Varga said.

“The process is very rigorous,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager at The Rapid. “They want to fund projects that are going to be successful and will be a positive catalyst for mobility and economic development, for improving the community, before they make that investment.”

Once the Laker Line has the green light, work will begin on converting the current bus stops along Route 50 to BRT stations like those installed along the Silver Line. The stations would include fare vending machines, camera surveillance, emergency phones, snowmelt systems, level boarding, real time arrival information and other amenities. The buses would also have traffic signal priority to help keep them moving and on schedule.

“What we are expecting is pretty much similar to the Silver Line BRT project,” Varga said. “We are not expecting widening (of the streets).”

One of the big challenges the project will need to resolve is easing services at Kirkhof Center.

“The conversation we had with the university is that something has to happen at Kirkhof that would make it easier to transfer from bus to bus, because at Kirkhof we have three other routes that meet the 50,” Varga said.

He said because the study is still being conducted, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

One item that has come up during the listening sessions is a request for increased service, according to Kalczuk, who said that would be a likely outcome for the route.

Varga said the study would be concluded at the end of this summer. He could not give any estimates as to the project cost.

When asked if additional BRT lines will follow, Varga said the Laker Line is the only one currently in the works.

“At some point, once we get this one into project development, we might think about another one, but that is not on the radar,” he said.

To find out more about the Laker Line study, visit here.

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