Laker Line approved for funding

GVL / Luke Holmes - Grand Valley students exit the 50 bus at the Kirkhof Center Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Grand Valley students exit the 50 bus at the Kirkhof Center Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.

Jess Hodge

After two years of planning every little detail down to the dollar, the Laker Line bus route has just received the stamp of approval on a $57 million grant.

The grant, submitted in the summer of 2015 and just approved last week, was issued by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and covers 80 percent of the total project’s cost.

The remaining $14 million will be provided by the state of Michigan.

The Laker Line will be a new bus route for Grand Valley State University students to travel to and from the Allendale and Pew campuses, with stops on the Medical Mile.

Although two years seems like a long time to plan, Nicholas Monoyios, long-range planner and project manager for the Laker Line, said the project went twice as fast as the Silver Line project did. The process took a while because it was imperative for Monoyios to give detailed project plans to the FTA.

He is excited for the new bus route to be put into action, with the projected opening date being in the spring or early summer of 2018, he said.

“Students can get from Allendale to (the) Pew Campus five minutes faster than they could on the existing fixed route vehicles,” Monoyios said. “Largely because the buses are bigger, they can hold 50 percent more people and the frequencies will stay the same.”

$14 million of the grant will be used toward buying new vehicles for the Laker Line. Monoyios said the Rapid plans on purchasing 16 60-foot articulated buses. An articulated bus is also known as an accordion bus, with an accordion-style joint in the middle of two seating sections, adding length and flexibility to the bus.

In addition to new vehicles, a new $13 million maintenance facility is being built specifically for the new buses. These facilities will be equipped with new technology that tunes them into traffic patterns and traffic lights, letting the buses communicate real-time arrival at the stations.

The biggest change for GVSU students will be in the form of construction preparations for the Laker Line. The grant will also be used to reconfigure both Laker Village Drive and the Kirkhof Plaza, the bus loop outside of the Kirkhof Center.

“From the Alumni House to the western perimeter and around the parking lots – that is going to be widened to accommodate automobile traffic,” Monoyios said. “That will enable the Laker Line to use North Campus Drive as a bus priority lane.”

Kirkhof Plaza will be filled with concrete and the bus paths will be widened to accommodate two Laker Line buses in addition to the off-campus shuttles. This is being done to reduce the flow of traffic and provide an easier transition for students getting on and off the bus.

“Sometimes from Kirkhof, as Route 50 is leaving, especially with so much (traffic), it can take five, sometimes 10 minutes just to get back to Lake Michigan Drive,” Monoyios said. “By widening Laker Village Drive to put the automobile traffic onto that street, we are going to make it so much easier for the (buses) to stop at Mackinac and Kirkhof Plaza.”

The new bus stops will also be revamped, with additions such as snow-melting technology and increased safety and security with video cameras.

“As GVSU grows their campus, they don’t want to need to build more parking,” Monoyios said. “They want to really incentivize how efficient and convenient and reliable enhanced transit can be.”

The amount of public input during the early stages of the Laker Line project, especially from GVSU students, faculty and staff, has been a guiding force for the project, Monoyios said. He is hopeful that students will enjoy and appreciate the new Laker Line.