A project to bring commuter rail service between Livingston and Washtenaw counties is gaining steam, with business, local governments and the state getting on board.
A public-private partnership submitted a $1 million grant application to the federal government March 1, and Mike Bagwell, president and CEO of Great Lakes Central Railroad, said that money will determine whether the project can go forward or will stop dead in its tracks.
"It all hinges on the grant," he said. "Unfortunately, there's not much we can do to speed it up."
The grant application includes letters of support from state Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Marion Township; state Reps. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, and Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township; U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton; and the Brighton and Howell chambers of commerce.
Washtenaw County's Northfield Township board and the Howell City Council also approved resolutions of support.
Mike Cicchella, Northfield Township supervisor, said the University of Michigan had also committed to buy rail passes for 1,200 employees.
"The beauty of this whole thing is we've got public-private, cross-county, local, state and federal people supporting it," he said. "We're pushing as hard as we can ... we're still getting letters of support."
Officials said the goal is twofold — ease traffic congestion while U.S. 23 is under construction, and start up a permanent rail service that could stretch up to Traverse City.
The Michigan Department of Transportation has pledged some funds to upgrade the tracks. The plans right now call for the northern terminal to be at Eight Mile Road and U.S. 23, but Bagwell said the line could be extended to Howell relatively quickly.
I'm not completely against this, but I'm not sold on it for several reasons. Pro's and cons, assuming it expands to Howell. (It's worthless if it doesn't)
1. Less traffic on US 23 South of Whitmore Lake.
2. More environmental friendly than cars.
1. Costs. How much to build? How much to operate? How much charged to the consumer.
2. This isn't New York, Chicago, or Toronto. It's not even Detroit. Is there enough people in the area to use this? Washtenaw and Livingston Counties combined number under 500,000 people, and the population is spread out.
3. The Detroit People Mover is far from a success.
4. Parking. People would have to drive to the stations. Brighton is left out unless they drive (on US 23) to Whitmore Lake - 8 miles from Ann Arbor. For that much trouble, it's easier to drive. For me, and the stop is about 2 miles away from me, it's easier to drive.
5. Customers - While many, including myself, commute to Ann Arbor from the county, how many commute to Detroit, Oakland County, Flint, and Lansing? Livingston commuters travel in all directions. Secondly, I'm assuming more Ann Arbor commuters live in Pinckney, Hamburg, Brighton, Hartland, and South Lyon than elsewhere in the county. The proposed route covers only Hamburg. Brighton is left out, and that is a likely customer base.
6. US 23 traffic - If the main stop is in Whitmore Lake, the traffic problem from M-36 Northward is not even slowed.
7. Police presence required. Added costs.
1. Parking. Will there be enough?
2. Service - how quickly do the trains run
3. Expansion - Does the rail expand to Brighton? Hartland? Fenton? South Lyon? I can not see this succeeding at all if Brighton is not covered. That gets some people off US 23. Does this go to Oakland County? I've heard of proposals of a Detroit-Lansing link.
4. Private funding. How much?
5. How much public support is there for this?
Right now, I oppose this. I can be convinced to support this if it is not subsidized, and correctly planned. However, I'm not convinced that this is not the people mover pt II. Based on the population and how spread out it is, it will be a hard sell.