Oct 9, 2008

Ann Arbor to Detroit Regional Rail Project will get the train rolling in southeast Michigan

Mass transit in southeast Michigan is going forward, despite efforts by some local officials to drag their feet and stay anchored in the past.

The regional planning agency the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) announced they are in final talks with the railroads to get trains running in the much anticipated Ann Arbor to Detroit Regional Rail Project. SEMCOG expects a few commuter trains a day will be up and running starting in Ann Arbor with stops in Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit near the end of 2010.

The project began as the Ann Arbor to Detroit Rapid Transit Study Alternatives Analysis, and it intends to use existing tracks and infrastructure when possible. The project is being managed by SEMCOG, along with partners that include representatives of all communities in the corridor, Wayne and Washtenaw County officials, state and federal representatives, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the local transit operators (AATA, DDOT, and SMART), Amtrak, representatives of Norfolk Southern (NS) and Canadian National (CN) Railroads and members of the business community.

That's in sharp contrast to the stalled Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) commuter rail line that would create a Howell-to-Ann Arbor rail link. Livingston County, the fastest growing county in the state, is a bedroom community, and many residents work in both Ann Arbor and Detroit. A link up from Ann Arbor to Detroit would make the system even more violable.

However, the shortsighted, all Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners decided in September to not only not provide any money to the project, but it will also not be part of the coalition that wants to form a taxing authority.

However, the project is not dead, and the coalition partners - Washtenaw County, the City of Howell and the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce – are going forward. Local business leaders are also stepping up, such as Green Oak Township developer Earl LaFave who plans to build $77 million in commercial, residential and other development in Howell and Northfield Township in Washtenaw County along the planned rail line.

That effort may be helped with the introduction of House Bill 6114 in the Michigan House of Representatives that will create the Transit Revitalization Investment Zone Act. Under the act, a new kind of tax increment finance authority could be created that would promote development, including "transit revitalization improvements," within a specially designated transit revitalization zone.

It would permit local units of government to create tax increment financing authorities (TIFA) that captures future increases in property taxes within that district for the authority to use to finance public infrastructure improvement projects within the district. It's similar to the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Local Development Financing Act (LDFA) used to establish industrial parks.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, on May 13 and referred to the House Transportation Committee where it is awaiting action.


Anonymous said...

It's fine to be in favor of a commuter train. But if you blindly support it, then your arguments aren't taken seriously.

There used to be a Detroit to Ann Arbor train and it failed miserably. Why would it do better now? Higher gas prices? Maybe. But you need some facts.

As for WALLY, are you one of those who thinks it would reduce congestion on US-23? If so, I'm curious if you have any idea of the proposed WALLY ridership versus current US-23 traffic volume? Or do those facts not matter once you've made up your mind?

Communications guru said...

“Blindly support it?” The City of Howell and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners are “blindly supporting it” but only you and the Livingston County Board are correct? I don’t see any facts from you. Can you give me a link to this failed Detroit to Ann Arbor train? Yes, I believe higher gas prices and the fact that people are more aware of the damage done to the environment by autos will help the train succeed. Here’s an idea, spend some of the millions of dollars spent on maintenance on US 23 on the train.