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Are streetcars in GR'a future?

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Are streetcars in the future of local transportation?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

By Rick Wilson

The Grand Rapids Press

In the next decade or so, West Michigan's public transportation should include streetcars and a new generation of buses.

The catch: Costs could reach up to $359 million.

These recommendations were approved Wednesday by the Rapid board, which next week will turn over the results of a two-year study to the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council. Peter Varga, executive director for the local transportation system, said the study sought input from area residents during a series of public hearings and is a necessary first step in qualifying for federal funding.

"You really need to begin somewhere and you need to begin in a way that's consistent with how the federal process works," Varga said.

The study, called Great Transit Grand Tomorrows, suggests transportation officials should plan for using streetcars and a new generation of buses called bus rapid transit. Annual costs for operating the two systems range between $18.8 million and $22.3 million.

Varga described the bus rapid transit vehicles as much like a streetcar on rubber tires with no electrification. They would travel on their own guideway for faster speeds to fixed stations in the area.

Although plans are very preliminary, they suggest Cherry or Wealthy streets as likely routes from downtown to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and Clyde Park or South Division avenues as possible routes from downtown south to 76th Street.

The recommendations have been approved by all of the Rapid's seven city members except Walker, which has not considered the issue yet. Metro Council will consider the recommendations in January and then, if approved, will begin fine-tuning ridership estimates.

"What we're talking about could happen in 10 years," Varga said.

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