As you may have heard, the Michigan House may be voting as early as today on a Senate appropriations bill that, among other things, includes approximately $400 million in rail-related spending, with would secure federal grants, and move us even closer to the goal of having a functional, state-wide public transportation system. To mark the occasion, we have a special guest post by our friend, mass-transit analyst Richard Murphy…. Here’s what he has to say:
If you’re interested in seeing better passenger rail service in Michigan, it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment to call your State Representative and ask them to support SB 237, a supplemental appropriations bill that will (finally) allow the state to tap $360 million in Federal high-speed rail funds that we’ve been awarded over the past few years. The bill includes about $32 million in matching funds, $16 million of which is being provided by the Norfolk Southern railroad.
Obligatory boring details: This funding includes $160 million awarded in 2010, which came with a 20% match requirement–$32 million–that the last State Senate refused to consider. Earlier this year, when Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin chose to give back their rail funding awards, Michigan won another $200 million, with no additional matching requirement.
The funds would primarily be used to purchase the rail that Amtrak uses between western Detroit and Kalamazoo from Norfolk-Southern and begin to make track and signal improvements to raise the track speed on that segment–Amtrak already owns the track from Kalamazoo to the Indiana border, with trains running 95 mph on that piece. Due to different track maintenance standards on the NS-owned section, Amtrak trains have been limited to 55 mph on large portions of that track, and this summer the tracks were downgraded to 30 mph. (As Depot Town has noticed, track work has been underway over the past two months to bring track back up to the traditional speed.) The federal funding would allow most of that track to be raised to 95-110 mph (with some obvious slowing in urbanized areas). Along with some smaller projects included in the funding package, the work is expected to cut train trip times from Detroit to Chicago to under 4 hours (compared to 5.5-6 hours now). (MDOT has a lengthier summary of the projects, including the application documents they submitted for funding.)
There’s been a lot of worry lately that the US House would clawback high-speed rail funds that weren’t yet under contract; an attempt was made this summer to tie such a clawback to disaster relief funding. While the US House was so posturing, Michigan was trying to negotiate a price for the track with NS, and get permission to use a write-down of the sale price by NS as part of the matching funds, as well as figure out where to draw the match from.
Since this has been a closed door process between Governor Snyder’s administration, the Federal government, and NS, there hasn’t been a lot for anyone outside the formal process to do. With much of that finally figured out, though, the administration has pushed to get the funds secured in the current fiscal year (ending, uh, Friday–but for the first time in a while, the legislature doesn’t have a budget to worry about at the final hour, so actually have time for business). The State Senate approved the bill last Wednesday, on a 30-6 vote, and the House will be taking it up either tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday.
For the action-minded, a call to your State Representative never hurts–Ypsilanti’s is Rep. David Rutledge, (517) 373-1771 / DavidRutledge@house.mi.gov. The rest of Washtenaw County is represented by Rep. Jeff Irwin (Ann Arbor), (517) 373-2577 / JeffIrwin@house.mi.gov; Rep. Rick Olson (Pittsfield and south), (517) 373-1792 / RickOlson@house.mi.gov; and Rep. Mark Ouimet (Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester), (517) 373-0828 / MarkOuimet@house.mi.gov.
If the bill passes, the actual work is likely to be phased over a few years, but the State will be able to obligate the money, securing it against clawback attempts by the US House. While this is not specifically related to the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project, much of the capital investment needed for that project would be covered by the high-speed rail work. (Incidentally, SEMCOG yesterday issued the first update on that project since April.)
I know the AnnArbor.com article I linked to above said that it was likely to pass the House, but I’d encourage you to call or write your Representative, and let them know how important mass-transit is to the future of our state.
update: There are still a few issues to be worked out between the House and the Senate versions, as I understand it, but the appropriation bill has now passed both chambers, so it looks as though Michigan has secured the federal rail funding.