Holland-GR commuter line could start in late 2020

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The studies and surveys are complete and the public-private partnership has done its work.

For the proposed West Michigan Express, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road.

“To develop sort of the plan for the pilot commuter bus service,” said Josh Naramore, mobility director for Grand Rapids, which is a partner in the pilot program.

The people behind the proposed commuter line connecting downtown Grand Rapids to Holland say their target date to start the pilot program is late 2020 to early 2021.

The bus service would run a 40-mile stretch on Chicago Drive, providing yet another option for commuters and employers desperate to fill jobs.

“Employers are really struggling to get people to those jobs… and so how do we provide for that level of service? This is (one) of many tools in the toolbox,” said Naramore.

About 2,000 people from 166 employers in the proposed route area were surveyed during an earlier feasibility study which looked at bus and rail transportation. About 40% of those who responded said they’d be interested, according to Naramore.

While train transit might be the more appealing option, don’t expect to be riding the rails between Grand Rapids and the lakeshore anytime soon. Startup and operation costs for a bus service would run about $1 million the first year. Those same costs for a rail service would run in excess of $30 million and take years just to get through regulations.

But rail commuter service is still a long-term goal.

“In order to be able to get people to use it, we’re starting with bus service and developing a lot more of the interest around that before moving to a longer, more capital-intensive project,” said Naramore.

The buses will run every 15 minutes during the morning and evening commutes, with 30-minute stops the rest of the day.

Funding will come through a combination of fares, grants and private funding.

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