Phase I of the new surface transportation center, The Rapid Central Station, is set to open June 14.
The Rapid Central Station is west of the S-curve along U.S. 131 on what has been known as Area 6 of The Rapid’s South DASH lot.
Phase I has included construction of a covered, lighted boarding and deboarding platform that is the length of two football fields. The platform can accommodate up to 17 buses simultaneously and is equipped with heated waiting areas, information kiosks, seating and a concession area.
The move from the current transportation center on Ionia Street to the new location requires routing changes in the downtown area and to Routes 11/Plainfield and 13/Michigan. The center on Ionia was established as an interim transfer center until which time The Rapid could build a permanent station for bus transfer, said Peter Varga, executive director and CEO of The Rapid.
The transportation authority waited until it had accumulated several special federal and state grants to build the center, he said. A total of $23 million in grants were collected specifically for construction of the surface transportation center project.
The Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) board formed a committee to work with consultants to identify the best potential site for a permanent transfer center, and a four-year, “very laborious” study phase ensued, he said. Twelve potential sites were considered.
“The issue here is that it’s very difficult to operate a site where 17 buses can meet intercity service and other cities served, in a location that is very confined. We could not build at the current location on Ionia Street because it would never function over there. That was not an option for us.”
In addition to 17 buses, the site had to have public restrooms as well as adequate space to house people waiting for buses, had to accommodate Greyhound and Indian Trails intercity bus services and had to provide access for rail in the future, Varga noted.
“You’re looking at a site that really has to last 100 years of service to the (transit) authority.”
The Rapid’s director of development, Jim Fetzer, presented slides and posters detailing route changes that will be necessary in the downtown area to accommodate the move from Ionia Street.
“The current problem with moving the facility is that it benefits some routes in terms of time and it hurts other routes in terms of time. It takes more of the routes more time to get down to the new location,” Fetzer explained.
“What we tried to do was maximize our resources, maintain services in every place that we have them now — which I think we’ve done a pretty good job with that — and still maintain good downtown coverage.”
Proposed route changes can be viewed online at ridetherapid.com.
The change does mean some people will have to go on a different route to get to their location, Varga said.
“But what we have attempted to do is not eliminate the potential to go to those locations by transfer. What we’ve tried to do is make sure that people who are currently receiving service are going to continue to be able to receive service. Sometimes they will have to transfer, but they will certainly be able to move in the same areas for downtown.”
Ground will be broken on Phase II of the project next spring, with construction of a 3-level, 50,000-square-foot indoor transportation facility that also will house The Rapid’s administrative offices, bus information and ticketing areas, a large community meeting room and catering kitchen, a community policing substation and public restrooms, said Project Manager Anne Laurent of Progressive AE.
Laurent also noted that about 7,800 square feet of space on the second level and about 7,000 square feet on the third level would be available for lease initially.
Varga said as the organization grows, it will expand into those spaces rather than spend capital to build out. He said potential tenants would not necessarily have to be in the transportation industry.
Public comment recorded at last week’s meeting will be combined with comments recorded at the public hearing today from 4-6 p.m. on the 9th floor of Grand Rapids City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW.
Varga said The Rapid staff will discuss the comments and suggestions with the ITP board and bring a plan back to the board for final approval at its March 31 meeting, which will double as the final public hearing.
The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 31, at ITP headquarters at 300 Ellsworth SW in Grand Rapids.
The board will hear public comments at the meeting but no presentation is planned. The ITP board will vote on the proposed route changes at the March 31 meeting, Varga said.
Jennifer Kalczuk, manager of communications and external relations, said The Rapid will be doing a lot of public outreach regarding route changes after the ITP board approves the plan.