GRAND RAPIDS — The Rapid’s second enhanced transit line connecting downtown Grand Rapids and Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus can now move forward after clearing a key bureaucratic hurdle.
GVSU announced on Friday evening that the Federal Transit Administration had released the federal funds that will cover 80 percent of the construction costs for the long-planned Laker Line along what is now the transit organization’s busiest route.
Money from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will cover the rest of the $70 million construction costs that will include enhanced stations at 14 stops between downtown Grand Rapids and GVSU’s campus, as well as traffic signal priority that will allow buses to travel more efficiently.
Construction on the route could begin this spring, with the Laker Line functioning by 2020, according to a statement.
“Funding for the Laker Line is great news for our students and the nearly 8,000 riders who travel between our campuses every day,” stated D. Scott Richardson, vice president for finance and administration at GVSU. “The Laker Line is the type of transit option that helps retain and attract talent to the West Michigan region.”
Often described as a cheaper alternative to light rail, bus rapid transit (BRT) offers riders enhanced bus stations, dedicated travel lanes and other amenities intended to provide faster, more reliable service on set routes.
The Rapid operates Michigan’s only other BRT system, known as the Silver Line, which began operating in 2014 and spans a route from downtown Grand Rapids along Division Avenue to 60th Street in Gaines Township.
While executives at The Rapid had long considered funding for the Laker Line to be an eventuality, they said delays at the federal level led to some uncertainty for the project.
With the federal government now pledging its support, West Michigan officials say the Laker Line should increase economic development for the region.
“West Michigan has become known as a hub for innovation, research and opportunity,” U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said in a statement. “The Laker Line will help our community take the next step by providing Grand Valley students with a greater ability to gain hands-on experience in the growing educational, medical and business fields available in downtown Grand Rapids.
“I believe the Laker Line will help connect students and West Michigan residents with greater opportunity, strengthen our workforce, and move our economy forward.”