Sep 15, 2008
County board's decision to kill transit line demonstrates lack of foresight
A perfect example of why we need another viewpoint on the nine-member, all Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners is their decision last week to not only not provide any money to the Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) commuter rail line, but it will also not be part of the coalition that wants to form a taxing authority.
According to a report in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, board chair Bill Rogers said the county cannot afford to finance the project that aims to create a Howell-to-Ann Arbor rail link. Officials have estimated annual funding from each county ranging from $75,000-$150,000.
A move to establish a mass transit hub in Howell and Livingston County has been ongoing since the late 1990's, but there was hope this latest effort would succeed because of the strong commitment of the coalition members, gas prices above $4 a gallon and the backups experienced along U.S. 23, the north/south highway to Ann Arbor where many Livingston County residents work.
The good news is that even though the county board continues to lack any forward vision at all, the coalition members plan to go forward despite the county's refusal to get with the times. Washtenaw County Chair Jeff Irwin said establishing the line is still feasible without Livingston County's help.
Locally, the City of Howell and the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce are behind the project. U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, said a solid taxing authority needs to be in place before federal funds can be secured.
I have heard this project described by one rightwing blogger as a "train to nowhere." I don't consider Howell, Brighton or Ann Arbor nowhere. Perhaps we could have gotten some of the massive federal funds Alaska gets every year, like from the money for the real bridge to nowhere. The problem is Gov. and GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin, who campaigned hard for it then and now says she is against it, accepted the money anyway.
The current gas prices illustrate the need for some real mass transit in this state. Hurricane Ike helped shoot gas prices back up to as high as $4.24 a gallon in Howell. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on Friday, there were reports that gas went as high as $5 per gallon in Lansing.
This spike came after weeks of a slow, but steady decline in gas prices that led to gas prices falling to as low as $3.69 a gallon in Howell. Now, that wasn't because of the goodness of the oil companies or because supply increased. It was because demand fell because Americans are cutting back on driving and finding alternative ways to get to work, such as car pooling.
Now, wouldn't it be nice if commuters actually had a few options besides one car and one driver? Since November I have been a member of a car pool, van pool actually. This might be a good time to give a shout out to the Michivan. I'm sure you have seen them tooling around Lansing or parked in the commuter lots scattered all over Michigan.
But the failure of the county board of commisioners to cooperate with its neighbors and help create something that will benefit the region is just one more failure to look forward and provide any type of service to its residents.
Livingston County is a bedroom community, and it was also once one of the fastest growing counties in the state. That has been because two major interstates – one east/west and one north/south – meet in Livingston County. After talking to many people, I have found that the county is a compromise of sort when people relocate. One spouse may work in Lansing and the other in the Detroit area. Then Livingston County is the compromise. With gas relatively inexpensive that commute was not much of a problem, but with gas at or near $4 a gallon Livingston County is not so attractive anymore.
Now, for the people in the county who are against growth and want to shut the door behind them that may be fine. But for school officials who need new pupils and the per-pupil foundation grant they bring to the budget it's not so good. A commuter option would help.
The board's lack of foresight will ensure we stay a bedroom community where we have to leave the county to work, to go to college or even to take in recreation.
The county has more than 180,000 people, but we don't have as much as a community college of our own. Of the five counties that border the county, all but one has a community college of its own. We only recently got a county park, and that was only after it was forced on the county with a donation via a will more than four years ago. It is not much more than a piece of property, but Washtenaw, Ingham and Oakland counties have active parks with amenities.
All five of the counties have a full-blown YMCA – on of my pet peeves, by the way – yet Livingston County has just started one but does not yet have a facility. Even much smaller Shiawassee County has one. Now, I understand that county government does not have much to do with establishing a YMCA, but it certainly illustrates our lack of identity.