Michigan’s High-Speed Punch to the Gut and What You Can Do About It
Not to be for Michigan . . .
By Sean Mann
I was taken aback by the announcement. Almost physically sick. Of course I never thought it would be a silver bullet for what ails Michigan, but it certainly could be something to transform Michigan communities and a sign of progress. It was something I had grown to appreciate while living away from Michigan and sorely missed now that I’m back in my home state. My anticipation for it grew with each speech from Washington dignitaries about its benefits and the almost inevitability of its arrival in Michigan. And then last Thursday that was all dashed with the announcement that "it", high-speed rail, would not be coming Michigan and most of the $8 billion in stimulus funds would be directed towards projects in Florida, California and Illinois.
Over the past year members of the Obama administration folks have passed through our fair state and made their media appearances where they’ve paid a lot of lip service to getting Michigan back on track. They speak of feeling our pain and they promise we won’t be overlooked. They stand at podiums in the middle of factories or next to highway construction projects and tout investments in green technologies and the benefits of the stimulus package.
And true, while there is a lot to grumble about when it comes to the stimulus plans, in fairness some of their poetry and prose has come to fruition. Michigan was one of the largest recipients of the green technology grants with nearly half of all money for advanced battery technology coming to Michigan.
But one area that caught my attention and imagination and that of many others was the $8 billion slated for high-speed rail. Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary LaHood, during their many Michigan visits, touted the importance of high-speed rail for creating jobs, improving the connectivity of our cities and revamping our infrastructure. Both officials said Michigan would inevitably be a big recipient of these funds.
So when last Thursday came around and the announcements were made for the grants, what happened? Well let’s say you are far more likely to ride a fast train from Orlando to Tampa than you are from Detroit to Chicago, in the near future.
In fact, Michigan is to get only $40 million, less than 5 percent of the amount we requested and .5 percent of all the money allocated in the program. The $40 million Michigan will receive for platform and station improvements along with an investment of an additional $200 million in rail improvements for the Indiana and Illinois portions of the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor will make the existing service more efficient and reliable. But this is hardly enough to revolutionize how we view transportation infrastructure in Michigan or to help bolster our communities by bringing them closer to each other and our closest global hub-Chicago.
You can still get to Chicago from Kalamazoo . . . it just won't be quite so fast
Some of our leaders will publically say they are happy to get the $40 million while others will chastise the Obama administration, but behind closed doors they will all be disappointed. Amid a very partisan atmosphere in Washington DC and Lansing, high-speed rail was one issue the governor and the entire Michigan Congressional Delegation whole-heartedly supported.
Yet in the end, that wasn’t enough. In some regards, we are the ones at fault. We don’t have a reputation for having a transit culture in Michigan and recent efforts by the Michigan Senate to cut the state’s funding for Amtrak hardly does anything to dispel this belief. Furthermore, without additional transportation funds or the political will in Lansing to increase the gas tax, the state will not have the revenue to maintain our existing transportation system, let alone new services. This is certainly something Washington DC most have taken into consideration when allocating the rail funds.
That’s not to say we weren’t worthy of the money. A few things to consider:
-There has been a growing push by Michigan business and community leaders on local transit projects such as the light rail initiative in Detroit, bus rapid transit in Grand Rapids and commuter rail in Southeast Michigan.
-Michigan is one of only a few states in the country that subsidizes passenger rail services (the Pere Marquette line between Chicago and Grand Rapids and the Blue Water line between Chicago and Port Huron).
-There is a growing appreciation in Michigan about the importance of quality of place and quality of life and the role alternative transportation can play in achieving this.
-Despite having the 8th largest population we are 18th in the amount of federal transit funding we received. “Dear Washington, let us get back some of the money we send you!!!”
-And most importantly, while the whole country has experienced economic troubles of late, no state has endured the severity or length of troubles like Michigan. Then candidate Obama, in his 2008 Labor Day speech in Detroit even equated Michigan woes with a cruel economic hurricane.
The proposed corridors for high-speed rail
The whole decision hit me hard because it felt like, despite all rhetoric, Washington DC didn’t have any faith in us. The Let’s Save Michigan campaign is built around the principle that we have to take matters into our own hands to create more livable cities and a more prosperous Michigan (we can’t just wait for federal bailouts). But this is a case where a helping hand from DC would have gone a long way to benefiting local initiatives.
This $8 billion isn’t the end of high-speed rail funding. In fact it’s only the initial investment, with $2.5 billion to be allocated later this year and more billions more to come in following years.
Take a moment to sign this open letter to let Secretary of Transportation LaHood know you believe in Michigan’s come back and that future high-speed rail funding could play a crucial role in our resurgence.
The top image was obtained via a flickr Creative Commons liscense from jon curnow.blog comments powered by Disqus