Is Grand Rapids Going to get Streetcars?

For the past 6 months former Grand Rapids John Logie and current Mayor George Heartwell, along with representatives of The Rapid transit system, and other city luminaries have been meeting to discuss whether or not Grand Rapids should install a streetcar system. The culmination of those meetings took place recently with a presentation focused on the specific plans for the implementation and outcome of installing a streetcar system. As a culmination of several meetings over the past 6 months the area stakeholders involved are optimistic about the chances of having a streetcar run through Grand Rapids downtown area.

Several routes were considered for the proposed streetcar, but the preferred route would run through downtown from Monroe to Market. Some benefits of this route over others are that it would best serve the Arena South District, foster downtown development, avoid certain parking issues, and hits the South of Grand Rapids’s entertainment district. Perhaps the biggest benefits of this route are that there are 31-35 acres of developable land adjacent to the route, and the route would improve access to Central Station and Amtrak.

The biggest concerns voiced about the creation of a streetcar system dealt with cost and the length of time it would take to implement the system. The annual operating cost, in today’s dollars (not taking inflation into account) is estimated to be $3,306,000. And the up-front costs seemed daunting to some.

Funding for the system was proposed to come from both federal and private sources. A conversation was had about the dynamics of seeking federal funding. It was expressed that federal funding sources depend upon the willingness of political representatives to cooperate and allocate appropriate funds. Because representatives often do not agree on spending issues, the estimated time of implementation would lengthen. It was stated that with federal funding it could take an estimated six and a half years to implement the system. Optimistically and without depending on federal funding the project is estimated to take around three and a half years to reach completion. The reason why time is of the essence is because large projects such as this, when they lose momentum, often fall apart. So the difficulty lies in finding investors and balancing diverse investment sources, private and federal, prudently.

Despite financial concerns, a great deal of excitement took place at the meeting. A spirit of cooperation guided everyone. It seemed that everyone in the room wanted the project to succeed. It also seems safe to say that citizens of Grand Rapids will find the prospect of a streetcar system equally exciting.