A few days ago, it was decided that the federal high-speed rail funds that had been made available to Ohio and Wisconsin, would be transferred to other states. It would seem, the newly elected Republican Governors of Ohio and Wisconsin, who had campaigned on their unwillingness to undertake big, innovative initiatives, were of the opinion that they didn’t want to take federal dollars to bring high speed rail to their states. As it would turn out, the funds in question – $810 million in Wisconsin and $385 million in Ohio – would be reallocated to California and Florida. And, now folks are beginning to worry that we may suffer the same fate here, in Michigan, where our state Senate, despite all of our calls, have been reluctant to vote on a House measure that would make available $35 million in matching funds, so that we can claim the $161 million in federal high-speed rail dollars that we’ve been awarded. And, it’s with that in mind, that the Detroit Free Press ran the following editorial in today’s paper:
News from Washington in October that the state would get $150 million to develop a high-speed railway between Kalamazoo and Dearborn brought a welcome push to Michigan’s efforts to build a 21st-Century transportation system. But the federal government can’t help those states that won’t help themselves. Michigan now faces the very real prospect of losing the grant because the Legislature failed to set aside the required 20% local match.
It’s an ominous portent for the road ahead — if Michigan doesn’t find a better way to fund state transportation needs. Yes, that effort must include improving efficiency and working to get a fair share of dollars from Washington. But unless Michigan wants to watch hundreds of millions of dollars of federal grants fly to other states, it also means an overdue increase in the state gas tax.
Michigan’s inability to fix its transportation funding problems was undoubtedly one reason the state received only about half of the $308 million it requested to purchase and upgrade 135 miles of track. Even the $150 million the federal government committed would have enabled Michigan to prepare roughly 60 miles of track for high-speed service. That would have cut commute times in the 280-mile corridor between Detroit and Chicago by about 15 minutes, giving Amtrak and the state an improvement to promote.
The time is right. This year, nearly 480,000 passengers rode Amtrak Wolverine trains on the Detroit-Chicago corridor, up 8% from a year ago. Passengers on the Blue Water train — serving Port Huron, East Lansing and Chicago — rose more than 18% to nearly 158,000.
Besides the $150 million for high-speed rail service, Michigan was awarded $3.2 million to plan for 110-m.p.h. passenger service on the Amtrak route between Chicago and Detroit. Another $7.9 million was set for the West Detroit connections project, connecting the Chicago-Detroit high-speed line to the Detroit New Center station. The federal grants were scheduled to roll into Michigan early next year, said Tim Hoeffner of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Now, unless the next Legislature acts quickly, or the Department of Transportation finds another way to secure the local match of about $35 million, more than $160 million will hit the road to other states. Gov.-elect Rick Snyder must make sure that doesn’t happen.
More broadly, Snyder must show far more leadership than his predecessor in finding a way to pay for a transportation system that will help put Michigan’s economy in overdrive.
Amen… We’ve been through enough in Michigan. We can’t afford to be one of the states, like Wisconsin and Ohio, that decides to opt out of the 21st century. This might just be the last nail in Michigan’s coffin.