Funds for Study Sought

November 30, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ten years ago, the Kent County Commission voted against expansion of the former Grand Rapids Area Transit Authority bus service to the county's outlying townships. But times changed and so did the context when six cities came together to form the Interurban Transit Partnership in 2000.

The context of a decade ago was to create a county-wide transit authority, and that was not possible, recalled Peter Varga, executive director of The Rapid transit system. The ITP serves the cities of Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming, each of which support transit services through a property tax millage.

Since the creation of The Rapid, the transit authority has contracted with Alpine, Byron, Gaines and Cascade townships for both route and para-transit service, and with AdaTownship for para-transit service only. Those townships pay an allocated cost per hour for service, Varga said. Most townships are partially urban and partially rural, so they don't have the same level of demand for services as do the cities that comprise the ITP, he noted.

There's also rudimentary transit service in some of the other townships either through the Hope Network-run North Kent Transit Service or The Rapid's CountyConnection service. However, there continue to be requests for bus services from people in outlying areas, Varga said. The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council called a meeting last month with representatives from several area townships to discuss the possibility of expanding Rapid bus service into suburban and rural KentCounty.

"There is some need for service in the outlying areas," Varga said. "The question is how big is it? What should we be meeting in terms of ridership demand, and how could those needs be met by various entities?"

To that end, The Rapid has offered the county and the townships $100,000 in planning funds to put toward a "needs" study, though about twice that amount will be necessary to conduct a thorough review, according to Jim Fetzer, development director for The Rapid.

"We left that in their hands to consider," Varga noted. "Meanwhile, they've been having discussions with the Grand Valley Metro Council about the balance of the funds needed and about doing some sort of study jointly with us."

Don Stypula, GVMC's executive director, said that over the next couple of months he's going to try to track down some funding sources. The tough economy has certainly been a drain on local government, Stypula said, so his goal is to secure a mix of funding from a variety of sources so that the amount of money the townships have to pledge will be minimized. He met with the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Department of Transportation Thursday to see what they might recommend in terms of raising the needed funds.

"I know there is funding available," Stypula said. "I just want to make sure that MDOT knows that this is a priority. This has juice. It has a lot of support around the area. Let's get this going. That was my message."

Varga believes the money can be raised through a state grant program. Since an application would have to be made, he doesn't expect a grant would be available until the 2009 funding year.     

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