Economic Development, Higher Education, and Travel & Tourism

Survey: Commuter project in high demand

West Michigan Express would connect Holland to Grand Rapids along Chicago Drive Corridor.

March 15, 2019
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Based on the results of an employee interest survey, the West Michigan Express, a pilot commuter service project connecting Holland to Grand Rapids along the Chicago Drive Corridor, is closer to reality.

Hope College’s Frost Research Center recently completed an employee interest survey regarding a proposed commuter service along Chicago Drive Corridor. Originally, only 50 employers along the corridor were selected to participate, but the survey netted responses from more than 166 companies, representing almost 2,000 employees.

The survey asked employees whether they would take advantage of a commuter service — either by bus or rail — along the corridor.

The survey yielded 38 percent of respondents saying they were either interested or very interested in the proposed service. Patrick Waterman, Hudsonville city manager, said it was enough for the task force, which he is a part of, to move forward with the plan.

The West Michigan Express has seen a long deliberation process. The Business Journal previously reported the city of Hudsonville originally contracted Mp2planning, a consulting firm out of Muncie, Indiana, to gather information on whether such a commuter service — now dubbed the West Michigan Express — would be feasible. The study was published in February 2018.

The feasibility study showed 14.8 percent of workers in the Holland/Zeeland area commute to Grand Rapids, along with 28.8 percent of workers in the Georgetown Township area, which includes Hudsonville.

“We’re taking very incremental steps on this,” Waterman said. “Everything we’re doing is purposeful. The survey is pointing to, ‘Let’s keep taking those next steps.’”

Waterman said the next steps for the task force will be finishing the WMX service plan, identifying any gaps in funding and from where the additional funding will come and acquiring the capital necessary for the project, namely buses if the project favors them.

Although the task force hopes to one day implement an underutilized spur of track along Chicago Drive, owned by CSX, the service plan points toward starting the project with buses for cost reasons. According to a previous Business Journal report, the aforementioned feasibility study showed the cost to implement buses and maintain them over a long period of time proved less than improving and maintaining the track.

The initial goal is to attract 1,200 round-trip riders each day, with coach buses running on 15-minute intervals at each transit stop during peak times and 30 minutes for nonpeak times.

Waterman said the task force is considering the possibility of enlisting an existing commuter service, like The Rapid, to operate the WMX, rather than create an entirely new entity.

Currently, there is no clear timeline on when the pilot WMX program will hit the road, but Waterman suggested a tentative 2020 launch.

The West Michigan Express Task Force includes 20 partner organizations representing local and state government, nonprofits and private companies. Other stakeholders included representatives from the Grand Valley Metro Council, the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, the city of Holland, the city of Zeeland, the city of Grandville, the city of Grand Rapids, The Rapid, MDOT and The Right Place.

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