The cars and buses that streak down Grand River Avenue could have company in the form of another mode of travel if an ongoing study into a light rail connecting East Lansing to neighboring cities stays on track.
East Lansing and other area officials are conducting an analysis of whether adding a light rail that connects cities near Lansing would be feasible.
City Manager Ted Staton said it would likely take several years before any construction would begin, but the study is the first step in the process.
Possible light rail systems include a rubber-tired vehicle with designated lanes in the road, a vehicle that runs on a railway or an elevated vehicle. Staton said installing a light rail could provide several economic benefits.
“In many cities where a light rail has been developed there’s been extensive development along the corridor, so I think you could see more commercial involvement and more entertainment options for students and nonstudent residents,” Staton said.
“It would be great for economic development and a great way to protect the environment.”
The idea for the light rail was brought up during a recent task force meeting attended by city leaders.
Staton said the rail would connect East Lansing to Lansing and Meridian Township, but nothing has been finalized.
He said the light rail could be funded by state or federal transportation departments, but the idea needs to be studied thoroughly before outside funding can be sought.
“It’s not likely that this project would be done in four years or less,” he said. “First-year students at MSU might not be here when the light rail system begins operating, but if you don’t get started with the study, it’ll never happen.”
Debbie Alexander, assistant executive director of Capital Area Transportation Authority, said CATA is open to all advanced public transportation systems, as long as they are appropriate for the area.
A recent study funded by CATA found the bus system carries 10 percent of total trips along the stretch being considered, Alexander said.
CATA is conducting an additional study to examine the volume of transportation from the Capitol Building to Meridian Mall, 1982 W. Grand River Ave., in Okemos, after the Michigan Department of Transportation found CATA’s transportation numbers in that stretch to be high, she said.
“We’re looking at automobile movement, biking, multimodal and other transportation,” Alexander said.
Although they wouldn’t likely use the completed light rail before graduating, students said an extra form of transportation could be beneficial to the area as student housing moves increasingly further from campus.
“I think it could help with housing,” international relations senior Rachel Eberhard said.
“Especially with the rezoning of the Cedar Village area. If students get pushed out of there, it could definitely help having more transportation.”
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