Convincing Rick Snyder that high-speed rail is worth the investment

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.

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  1. Edward
    Posted December 14, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    If we didn’t get the Democratic-run Senate to vote on it during their lame duck session, what makes us think that we’ll get the Republican-led Senate to vote on it next term. Unless the new Governor pushes his party for it, I don’t see it happening. As much as I’d hate to see Michigan’s money going to fund high speed rail elsewhere, I think it’s probably going to happen.

  2. John Galt
    Posted December 14, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    We need trains like we need OSHA. Government should not be in the business of building highways, laying track, or looking out for worker safety. You can take this nanny state bullshit and shove it up your tight liberal ass. Give me the good old days when a man could chart his own course, and rise to the level of his abilities, unencumbered by laws and restrictions.

  3. Posted December 14, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    @Edward – the State Senate was already Republican-led this past year.

  4. Edward
    Posted December 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I was under the impression that the majority leader was a Democrat. Sorry. At any rate, would it make sense to start a letter-writing campaign directed at Snyder now, so that he’s got a desk full of letters on day one?

  5. Felix
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    @John Galt: Have fun “charting your own course” without making use of any *evil* public roadways. Remember to stay off of private property!

  6. Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I think Galt is joking.

  7. Edward
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I think Larson’s joking.

    So, who agrees with me that Michigan is likely going to lose this money to California?

    Has Snyder commented one way or the other?

  8. Alan
    Posted December 18, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Galt is surely joking. No one could be that stupid (with the exception of occasional 15-year-old Randoid libertards).

    A 21st century transportation system sounds wonderful. But how about restoring the 19th century one first? The Eastern U.S. used to have an OUTSTANDING network of regional train systems. Most of the tracks still exist, or are recoverable without spending megabucks. Pardon me, but TO HELL with “high speed rail” and saving 20 minutes on your next trip to Chicago. I just want to see cheap LOW speed rail, all over the place… Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Detroit, Belleville, Pontiac, Whitmore Lake, Brighton, Lansing, Milan, Manchester, Toledo, Saginaw, Mt Pleasant, Traverse City, and on and on. Rather than ultra-high-speed rail lines for the few, at terrific cost, to only a few select locations, how about human-speed rail lines for the many, to everywhere, at low cost? Just a strange thought from my addled brain.

  9. Posted December 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    @Edward – to my knowledge, Governor-elect Snyder has not commented one way or the other. It certainly can’t hurt to send a friendly note on the importance of good travel options to him – or to any of your incoming Representatives or Senators. Here in Ypsi, the incoming Representatives are all freshmen: David Rutledge for Ypsi; the rest of Washtenaw County will be Jeff Irwin and Mark Ouimet, both current Washtenaw County Commissioners.

    Ypsi’s incoming State Senator is Rep. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor. The Pittsfield/Saline area is represented by Sen. Randy Richardville of Monroe, though. Sen. Richardville is the incoming, Republican, Michigan Senate Majority Leader, and so will be a leader – one way or the other – for the next few years.

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