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Streetcars, not commuter trains, in city's future

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Streetcars, not commuter trains, in city's future

Thursday, October 28, 2004

By Jim Harger

The Grand Rapids Press

Grand Rapids city commissioners looked 15 years down the road Tuesday and agreed it probably should include streetcars or an enhanced rapid transit bus service.

By a 7-1 vote, the commissioners agreed to accept the preliminary recommendations of a $1.2 million study that concluded light rail and commuter trains along the city's freeway corridors or existing rail lines were impractical and too costly.

The study also concluded the first stages of any high capacity transit system should follow corridors that either run south from downtown to 68th Street in Byron Township or from downtown southeast to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Kentwood.

Peter Varga, director of the Interurban Transit Partnership which commissioned the study, asked the City Commission to endorse the early findings of the study before it moves into the next phase and spends $14 million worth of federal, state and local funds to design the transit upgrades.

Varga said the federal funding needed to build a high-capacity transit system could be 15 years down the road. But the planning required to compete for the funds will need to be done well in advance, he said.

"The question is: Is it going to happen in Charlotte or is it going to happen in Grand Rapids?" he said.

"That money is going to be spent here or somewhere else."

Mayor George Heartwell, a former chairman of the transit agency, said the fact that bus ridership has increased 60 percent in the past five years justifies the study. "We know our population has grown, and there's no reason to believe that growth won't continue."

Second Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala was the sole "no" vote. He said he wanted the planners to explore more potential route corridors.

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