Officials break ground on Grand Rapids Amtrak station

From The Grand Rapids Press:

Vern Ehlers says he wishes energy was purple.

Not in the sense of energy conservation being a red-blue (as in bipartisan) issue, though that is a nice thought.

As the former West Michigan congressman explained to a group gathered to break ground on the new Amtrak station that eventually will bear his name, he wishes energy had a visible color attached to it, so motorists would know how much of it they’re eating up.

“They would realize how much energy they’re wasting driving a car,” Ehlers said Friday in a lot near the Rapid Central Station Platform where the new station is scheduled to open in 2013. “Although the automobile is a wonderful invention, it got too good, so people drive them too much.”

Ehlers was the ceremony’s guest of honor, and he explained his interest in mass transit to a gathering that included local politicians and representatives from the Interurban Transit Partnership (the Rapid), the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The project is funded through a $3.8 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration. Last year, the DDA approved an $850,000 request to help the Rapid and M-DOT buy the land and leverage the federal earmark.

The new station and platform will be adjacent to the existing Rapid station and is intended to cut commute times on Amtrak’s Pere Marquette line between Grand Rapids and Chicago.

Ehlers, who represented Michigan’s 3rd District until early this year, said it was “a great honor” to have the station bear his name.

Others who spoke at the ceremony praised Ehlers’ efforts to secure funding for the project. (He would later vote against the 2009 spending bill that contained it.)

“All along, we’ve had a vision for a multi-modal transit system in Grand Rapids,” Mayor George Heartwell said. “This wouldn’t have happened without our champion in Washington.”

Amtrak this week reported ridership gains for its Michigan routes in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.