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Laker Line Update: Awaiting Federal Funding

Laker Line Fulton Station

The Rapid’s second bus rapid transit line is in the hands of a federal agency. On Tuesday, January 8, 2018, The Grand Rapids Press reported shared an update on the Laker Line.

Funding for the 13-mile-long Laker Line was authorized in President Barack Obama’s last budget for fiscal 2017 – but The Rapid has yet to see any of the $56.4 million it was promised.

“We’re all scratching our heads,” said Michael Bulthuis, spokesman for The Rapid.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, recently asked the head of the Federal Transit Administration about the grant and has not yet received a response.

“Unfortunately, there has been a bureaucratic logjam that has delayed the money from being released,” said Brian Patrick, Huizenga’s communications director, noting that Huizenga believes the project ultimately will be funded.

The $70.5 million Laker Line, once built, will run 16 articulated buses from Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus along Lake Michigan Drive into Grand Rapids, stopping at the Pew Campus and ending at GVSU’s facility on the Medical Mile.

The bus rapid transit line will replace The Rapid’s existing Route 50. The project was formally introduced in 2013 as The Rapid launched its first bus rapid transit line, the Silver Line.

The Rapid applied for $56.8 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program in August 2017 but has not heard back about the status. Bulthuis said formal approval of the grant application is needed before the money can be awarded.

In a letter dated Dec. 14, Huizenga asked K. Jane Williams, the acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, for a status update on the Laker Line grant.

“As you know, the Laker Line timetable has been carefully orchestrated in an effort to complete the project on schedule and within the budget,” Huizenga wrote. “Further delay in the receipt of the grant will have a negative chain reaction impacting schedule, cost, and development.”

Huizenga’s office has not yet received a response, according to his staff.

“We’re still very optimistic that we’ll get the grant very soon,” Bulthuis said.

The Rapid has been counting on the federal grant to pay for 80 percent of the $70 million project. The rest of the cost will be covered by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which has already allocated the $14 million it pledged.

Should The Rapid receive the federal grant in time, station construction would begin this spring and last throughout 2019, with a grand opening of the Laker Line in May 2020, Bulthuis said.

The Laker Line will offer bus service similar to what The Rapid offers on its existing Route 50. Buses will pick up passengers from stops every five to six minutes at peak times.

The travel time will largely be the same too, Bulthuis said.

What the Laker Line will be able to offer is larger buses that can carry more riders, making the route more efficient, Bulthuis said. The articulated buses can carry up to 60 passengers — about 20 more passengers than the 40-foot buses that run on Route 50 now.

Without the federal grant in hand, The Rapid is unable to start construction on the 20 platforms it needs to build for the stations, and cannot purchase the 16 articulated buses that will run the route.

Traffic signal priority technology will also be installed to extend green lights for buses to pass through, and to turn red lights back to green several seconds faster.

The Rapid is also waiting to build the turn-around for the Laker Line at Prospect Avenue on the Medical Mile. A turn signal will be installed to allow the buses to turn left off of Michigan Street into a small turn around – called a “loon” – at Prospect and Michigan.

GVSU will pay for the operation of the Laker Line as a part of its existing 10-year contract with The Rapid that began in July 2013.

The university pays $53 per revenue-hour to cover fuel, maintenance and driver staffing expenses for routes 50 and 85 – a rate that can be adjusted depending on costs to The Rapid.

The Laker Line will have 14 stops:

  • – GVSU’s Kirkhof Center
  • – GVSU’s Mackinac Hall
  • – Ferndale and Lake Michigan Drive
  • – Cummings and Lake Michigan Drive
  • – Standale Trail and Lake Michigan Drive
  • – Maynard and Lake Michigan Drive
  • – Covell and Lake Michigan Drive
  • – Fulton and Garfield
  • – Fulton and Straight
  • – GVSU’s Pew Campus
  • – Monroe and Louis (Silver Line stop)
  • – Monroe and DeVos Place (Silver Line stop)
  • – Michigan and Bostwick (Silver Line stop)
  • – Michigan and Lafayette

Recently the city closed the intersection of Fulton and Mt. Vernon at GVSU’s Pew Campus for five months to study the impact of the possible changes that could come as a station is added just east of the intersection.

Written by The Rapid

The Rapid (Interurban Transit Partnership) is the authority that provides a variety of public transportation services for the Grand Rapids metro area and beyond. It is organized and operates under Michigan Public Act 196 of 1986.