Study looks at feasibility of Holland, GR commuter train

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A study that considered the possibility of a commuter train connecting Grand Rapids and Holland is now complete.

The study, which was paid for by the city of Hudsonville, found nearly 15 percent of workers in the Holland area and nearly 30 percent of Hudsonville and Georgetown Township-area workers commute to Grand Rapids.

A group of community leaders is researching whether a commuter train, referred to as the West Michigan Express for now, could help ease some of the traffic issues and attract new talent to the area.

The commuter train could reduce traffic congestion on I-196. If implemented, it would make stops along the stretch of I-196 known as the Chicago Drive corridor, which includes areas like Zeeland, Hudsonville, Grandville and Jenison. 

“It’s the most heavily traveled journey-to-work corridor in our region,” Hudsonville City Manager Patrick Waterman pointed out.

>>PDF: West Michigan Express study

The existing CSX-owned tracks along Chicago Drive would need improvements that could cost between $8 million and $28 million for the first year, according to the study conducted by Mp2planning.

“This isn’t going to be on the ground next year,” Holland City Manager Keith Van Beek said. “It’s going to take some time, but I think it’s a great idea and something that is really worthwhile pursuing.

“I really appreciate just another initiative that takes a look at us just functioning more as a region and not as individual standalone cities or townships,” he continued.

Connectivity is one of the goals of the proposed 25-mile train route, according to Waterman, the Hudsonville city manager.

“It’s a huge economic development factor, it’s a huge talent attractor, and there’s a quality of life factor that would go into all of the communities up and down the line that would benefit from having a transit station in their community,” Waterman said.

He said that the idea came from Hudsonville city leaders who wanted better public transportation options. When he reached out to other area leaders, he found similar interest.

“It’s about planning for a better tomorrow,” Waterman explained. “We can continue to build and widen roads and make way for more traffic, or we can get smart and build for a better tomorrow through a new project like this.”

Waterman and Van Beek are part of a task force looking into interest and feasibility of a commuter train. The group also includes representatives from West Michigan economic development agency The Right Place, The Rapid bus service, the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, the city of Grandville and the city of Zeeland.

One question still before them is how commuters get to work after taking the train into the city.

“That’s part of the discussion. It’s what we call the ‘last mile question.’ So once they get off the stop, how do they get there?” Waterman explained.

In cities like Holland, that wouldn’t be much of a problem.

“We’re right where the MAX transit bus station also is. So it could be a hub where people could get right from the train from Grand Rapids and get right on to public transportation and to pretty much any point within the city of Holland,” Van Beek explained.

There’s a possibility that the group could decide to move forward with a commuter bus system, which would be easier and cheaper to implement than a train. The study revealed that the cost of adding a few buses equipped with Wi-Fi would be around $1 million for the first year. But city leaders pointed out that riders would still be subject to traffic.

The task force received $22,500 from a competitive state grant. They’ll use that money to commission a survey of businesses and residents so they can quantify interest.

The study’s findings were first reported by the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

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