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.


Republican Michigander said...

""I don't consider Howell, Brighton or Ann Arbor nowhere""

Problems besides initial and operation costs for the Train to Nowhere.

1. This train doesn't go near Brighton. Chilson/Brighton Rd is closest in Southern Genoa Twp.
2. A large number of people do not go to Ann Arbor. You said yourself that many commute to Lansing or Howell. This train doesn't go there, and that is with a different railroad (C&O RR v Ann Arbor RR)
3. I'd have to drive as far to the train as I do in my commute.
4. People have to drive to train stops. This isn't Chicago or New York.
5. This train stops by Plymouth & Depot area, hardly the main area for Ann Arbor. Better pay for a lot of shuttles, or better start walking.

Communications guru said...

1. I will admit I Haven’t followed this study as closely as the last one when I was writing about it, but the existing railroad tracks go from Howell through downtown Brighton and through Green Oak Township. How do you get to Ann Arbor without going through Brighton?
2. “A large number of people do not go to Ann Arbor?” I beg to differ. Ann Arbor has the U of M, U of M hospital St. Joes Mercy Hospital and even the Big House.
3. I take the Michivan to Lansing, and I commute to the park-n-ride. Any commute inside the county is close. We have LETS buses that can easily shuttle to and from the lots. I would venture to guess Ann Arbor has an even better system.
4. See 3.
5. See 3.

I still don't consider Howell, Brighton or Ann Arbor nowhere. Do you?

Anonymous said...

Never let facts get in the way of an opinion.

This proposed commuter rail does not go through Brighton. There is a second rail line through the county that cuts through Genoa and that's the one targeted.

Less than a third of county commutes to Ann Arbor (see Census reports), so that is the subset of those who could possibly use the line. Many of these...south Green Oak and those living near M-36 and south...are closer to their work place than they are to the proposed stations. So the group that could possibly be interested is relatively small.

U-M Hospital has expressed great interest in the line because it doesn't want to build more parking for its employees. If you think county taxpayers should underwrite UM Hospital, that's fine. But just realize that's what you are doing.

It's not that people don't go to Ann Arbor; it's that the proposed Ann Arbor station is not near worker or shopper it would take more buses, shuttles, etc. to make the system work.

By the time people drive to the station, wait for the train, stop 2 or 3 times at more stations and then take a shuttle or bus to their destination...well, it will take twice as long for the commute than it would take in a car...even with the traffic jams. And with a car, you can leave when you feel like it...not be limited by a train schedule.

I like trains and I wish this plan could work. But backers refuse to talk facts...they talk wishes. I don't want my tax dollars churned up in wishes.

Communications guru said...

Ditto for you. I don't see any facts from you, only your opinion.

The train will stop in Brighton, Whitmore Lake and two stops in downtown Ann Arbor. The Brighton stop is four miles from downtown, but a 4-mile drive is a lot better than a 20-30 mile drive down U.S. 23 during rush hour.

Apparently, Great Lakes Central Railroad does not own the tracks that run through downtown Brighton, but there is nothing stopping them from leasing them later.

As for ridership, "The University employs over 3,700 faculty and staff in the potential service
area, not including students." "However, average daily ridership of 2,600 is considered a
reasonable level of starting ridership for a new service."

As for the hospital parking lot line, I would think the wear and tear it saves on U.S. 23 and the reduction in pollution would offset your reluctance to assist one of the largest employees in the region.

Speaking of my involvement with van pooling and mass transit, there is not much of a walk, and I only have one time to leave Howell and one time to leave Lansing. However, if I have to work overtime or in an emergency, the company has an arrangement with Enterprise Rent-a-car. I don't see the problem with WALLY when we already have dedicated bus service on both ends of the trip.

I'm sure when they were talking about building I-96 or U.S. 23 they heard the same hooey about wishes.

Anonymous said...

You ignore anything that doesn't fit your view of reality. If you don't mind telling me...where precisely are the two stops in downtown Howell. I'm curious because none of the train advocates up here seem to be aware of it.

I said the track went through Genoa and not through Brighton. You said I was wrong and then repeated what I said. Amazing.

You may believe 4 miles west of Brighton is the same as Brighton, but it's not.

You have to look at population centers. If you live in Hartland, or most of Brighton Township, by the time you drove to the Genoa station, you could have driven much of the way to Ann Arbor.

These ridership projections are noting to hang your hat on. Even the report said those numbers weren't reliable. Nashville projected even higher numbers for a very similar line, and came up well short.

Even if the projections came true, the ridership would do little to prolong the life of US-23. That's one of the big myths...that a commuter train somehow reduces highway traffic. Not so.

Ever been to Chicago? Great rail system, moving a heck of a lot of people with large trains every few minutes. Ever try to drive Chicago expressways? Bumper-to-bumper. Worse than anything Detroit or Ann Arbor has to offer.

The Chicago system is a good one, but it doesn't reduce traffic congestion, sprawl, does give people an option and I say hooray for that.

But I don't see that the case has been made for WALLY. It doesn't make me anti-mass transit or a bad person. It does mean that I don't like the story I'm being told because the numbers don't add up.

Communications guru said...

I "ignore anything that doesn't fit my view of reality?" Are you serious? Again, ditto. When you make an argument, you choose facts that make your case. I am not the only one to do that. If you have facts to prove your point, you present them. That's how a debate works.

What you have presented to me is your opinion, based on what you see as reality. I at least provided a third party report to prove my points and my opinion.

I never said there were two stops in downtown Howell, I did say that for Ann Arbor, and it's in the report I provide a link to.

I just find it hard to believe someone won't drive 4-5 miles to avoid a 20-30 minute drive. And so what the Brighton stop is not located in downtown Brighton? There is not much of a residential base in downtown anyway. I have to use my commute as an example. We have 12 people in our van. We have a rider from Marion Township, Brighton, Hamburg Township, Hartland and three from the Fowlerville area. But we all meet the van at the D-19 park-n-ride. How would that be any different from a train?

You provided no facts for your opinion that it will not reduce traffic on US 23. I know one thing: when gas hit $4 a gallon, people found alternative ways to get to work, and the reduction in driving drove the price of gas down.

You say "The Chicago system is a good one, but it doesn't reduce traffic congestion, sprawl, does give people an option and I say hooray for that." We want an option here, too. I don't believe I said you were a bad person. I just wonder what it will take to sell people on mass transit. $5 a gallon? That's where we're headed.

Republican Michigander said...

When someone thinks of Brighton, Chilson and Brighton Rd isn't what comes to mind. Some houses near there in Oak Pointe even have Howell Addresses. Most think of Grand River and Main street, Challis and Grand River, or the High School (Brighton Rd/Main St and 7th St)when they think of Brighton.

If I am at Silver Lake road, it is about just as far to the proposed Chilson station (Genoa Township) as it is to Ann Arbor. My parents live about 2 miles SE of Chilson. It takes as long or longer to get to their house as it does to Ann Arbor. Downtown to Chilson isn't all that easy either in the morning because of Brighton High School traffic. Part of Hartland also has a Brighton address, as does out by Door Road.

Silver Lake to Whitmore Lake (8 mile and US23 I believe?) station is close, but at that distance, it's easier just to drive to Ann Arbor. From M-36, it's 15-20 minutes during rush hour, if you know the right route to take.

Now I'm not against this if it pays for itself, or is funded by private money. Why do the taxpayers have to pay for this?

Now back to work.

Communications guru said...

I have to disagree. Hell, people call Green Oak Township Brighton. Again, a four mile drive is a much easier drive than a trip down U.S. 23 during rush hour. When has any mass transit system completely pay for itself? Maybe the subway system in NYC. Why do taxpayers have to pay for the maintenance of US 23 or I-96 so people can live in Livingston County? Answer: the same reason taxpayers should help supplement a mass transit system.