Oct 27, 2008

Halloween fun demonstrates how popular mass transit can be in Livingston County

Howell -- A fun seasonal weekend in Livingston County demonstrated why Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) commuter rail line will be successful.

The plan is to establish a Howell-to-Ann Arbor rail link using the existing tracks owned by the Great Lakes Central Railroad. A coalition consisting of Washtenaw County, the City of Howell and the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce are behind the project.

Downtown Howell was overrun Saturday evening with more than 7,000 children and families dressed in their Halloween costumes for the 6th Annual Legend of Sleepy Howell. Grand River Avenue and the surrounding streets were closed down and kids went trick or treating, and there was a haunted alley, costume contests for both canines and people, hayrides, broom ball, scary story telling and even marshmallow roasting. One of the most popular attraction was the “Dreadful Depot and Terrifying Train.”

The train was actually one of the 10 stainless-steel bi-level passenger cars that will be used on the WALLY line. One half of the car was decorated, and one was not. People could tour the car, and many, like me, took advantage of the opportunity to see what it could be like reading the newspaper while traveling to work in comfort. I can’t wait to get a seat on the upper level. I already commute to work in Lansing with the Michivan, and I am just one of 12 people who ride the van. I like it, and it saves me money and hassle. It is so popular, that starting this week we are getting a larger van. Since I started riding in November, we have added two new riders.

I know the WALLY train will travel north and south, but someday, hopefully, the rail line will travel east and west.

Getting the train on line will not be easy, and the Livingston County Board of Commissioners decided not to provide any money to the project or to be a part of the coalition that wants to form a taxing authority. The shortsightedness of the all Republication board is just stunning. It seems ironic that the Livingston County GOP is spending some $20,000 to brag that the county has the lowest tax rate in the state and second highest bond rating with TV ads and billboards.

They should also get one that says the county has virtually zero services, and they are ensuring Livingston County is a bedroom community where people do little more than sleep here. If their children want post-secondary education they have to leave, if they want to go to a county park or want any of the other things neighboring counties like Washtenaw, Oakland or Ingham offer they must get in their car and drive out of the county. If gas had not fallen dramatically below the peak of $4 a gallon the county would have started to lose population as people had to move closer to their jobs out of economic necessity.

The good news is some people realize the benefits of mass transit, and they are putting their money where their mouths are. Howell Mayor Pro Tem Steve Manor and Council member and former Mayor Paul Rogers are paying for some 4,000 brochures with information on the WALLY line out of their own pockets that they will distribute.

They know that for every $1 invested in transit projects, $6-$8 is pumped back into the local economy. Among the things the brochure talks about is the $74 million of development that has taken place within three blocks of a new Grand Rapids transit center since 2004. Public transportation also reduces auto fuel consumption by approximately 1.5 billion gallons annually, lowering the nation’s trade deficit and reducing dependence on foreign. The fuel efficiency of a fully occupied rail car is 15 times greater than the average commuter single-occupant auto.

To see what kind of opposition the project is up against we have this quote from Livingston County Commissioner Dave Domas. He’s against the project even before the study was started. Domas is usually a very level-headed official who I have a lot of respect for. This is just further proof we need an alternative voice or two on the board.

"I was opposed to WALLY almost from the earliest phase when it was presented to us," Republican Commissioner Dave Domas said in a recent interview. "I don't mean to suggest the people who proposed or supported it were not being responsible or anything like that — in my judgment, a railroad line that runs, what, 27 miles with several stops in between is like a toy train system."

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