The Michigan Daily reported on Friday that $7.5 million in federal funds has been allocated for a study regarding a high-speed rail corridor between Detroit and Lansing, with potential stops in Dearborn, at Detroit Metro Airport, and in Ann Arbor. This is the first significant development in a long time, as Michigan spent most of October entangled in an intense state budget battle, which has still not yet been settled, even with a budget signed by Governor Granholm.
The funds for the study foot about 80% of the bill. Local governments will likely fund the remaining 20%.
Before continuing with this latest development, however, it is best that some background be given on this story.
The timeline begins with the Obama administration’s decision to allocate $8 billion for the construction of high-speed rail corridors throughout the U.S. as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. President Obama also proposed a separate investment of $5 million in additional rail funds, but that would be discussed as part of the 2010 fiscal year federal budget.
Earlier this year, Interstate Traveler (ITC), a firm based in Whitmore Lake, Michigan, had begun to make its case for a magnetic rail line, dubbed the “MagLev”, which would run along I-96, I-94, and U.S. 23. The Detroit News reported in June that sufficient private backing for the construction of a prototype between Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Detroit was possible, with such lenders as the Bloomfield Hills-based Omega Investments coming forth in support of the project at a hearing in East Lansing. Michigan State professor and economic historian James Anderson also testified in favor of the project at the same hearing.
In late July, governors from eight Midwestern states convened in Chicago to discuss the coordination of their efforts to gain a share of the $8 billion allocated by the Obama administration. Michigan itself sought to apply for $800 million of those dollars for funds to upgrade its own rail system.
Shortly after the meeting of the governors, ITC made its case to a task force in Grand Rapids, which could also eventually be a stop along a proposed greater line that would connect Detroit to Chicago. The task force included West Michigan State Representatives Kevin Green (R-Wyoming) and Mike Huckleberry (D-Greenville), who both expressed great interest in the potential economic benefits of such a system.
In late August, the Michigan Department of Transportation finally applied for the funds. To show her support, Governor Granholm made a trip on the Amtrak line from Detroit to Chicago, stopping in Jackson to speak about her aspirations for Michigan to begin work on a high-speed system.
The budget process in Michigan comprised most of the state’s political news for September and October. Further talks, however, may be continuing with a study now mostly funded.
What seems to be unclear from the various stories appearing in the news is who exactly will build this system. While ITC has spent much time at the forefront of the movement, the newly funded study is intended for a proposal by Lansing’s Capital Area Transit Authority (CATA). According to the proposal, the system would utilize as much currently existing infrastructure as possible. Trains would run five times a day between Detroit and Lansing.
The start-up costs of the CATA plan are estimated at $80 million. Project Director Debbie Alexander hopes to have 80% of these costs covered by federal funding under the Transportation Efficiencies Act. The annual cost of operation is projected at $9 million, which CATA predicts would be partially covered by $6.4 million in fares, leaving the remaining costs to municipalities.
Greg Cook, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Transit Authority, has already expressed his support for the CATA proposal. If it were to be fully realized, then he says he would make an effort to provide busing from the station on Depot St. into the city.
The Chicago Tribune
The Detroit News
The Grand Rapids Press (via mLive)
The Michigan Daily