Michigan's high-speed rail funding application could impact Ann Arbor's Amtrak station
Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced this morning that Michigan’s Department of Transportation would file its first set of applications for up to $800 million in funding from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Federal lawmakers allocated $8 billion in grants from the economic stimulus package for high-speed rail and intercity rail projects. Michigan is expected to file two succeeding rounds of applications.
The state’s proposal would involve station renovation projects and construction of new stops. Specific details were not immediately released, but Ann Arbor’s aging Amtrak station on Depot Street is a key stop on the Wolverine Line from Detroit to Chicago.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail company is coordinating with MDOT on the funding applications.
"Michigan is especially well positioned to compete for these funds," he said. "Some of our stations, without naming them, are at or near capacity and we would certainly be looking, as we grow our service and increase frequency, to expand the stations" and make other upgrades.
Carmine Palombo, transportation director for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said the high-speed rail initiative would "perfectly dovetail" with SEMCOG's proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter light-rail line. He said both high-speed rail and commuter rail projects could run along the same tracks.
"It's a huge project. There's huge potential," Palombo said. "It brings in money, it could bring in jobs. If the country is going to be going to a whole high-speed rail network, you certainly want to be part of that for transportation purposes and for economic purposes."
Washtenaw County Administrator Bob Guenzel could not be reached for comment.
SEMCOG is expected to file its own $100 million application for funding for the commuter rail project.
The state did not release a cost estimate for a complete high-speed rail line from Detroit to Chicago, but it’s believed to be at least several billion dollars.
Proponents of high-speed rail say it would foster job creation and economic development opportunities. The governor’s office cited statistics from the American Association of Railroads asserting that $1 billion in high-speed rail investment creates 20,000 jobs.
Critics of high-speed rail question whether it’s a plausible proposal in the midst of a financial crisis that has zapped funding for many major capital projects.
Michigan’s initial high-speed rail funding applications would also involve track upgrades and train control improvements.
“We envision high-speed rail service that is fast, frequent, reliable, safe and secure, and that uses modern equipment that makes arriving and departing convenient,” Granholm said in a news release. “We want to shorten the time it takes to travel from Detroit to Chicago to four hours and increase the frequency of that trip to nine times a day.”
The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to award high-speed rail funds this fall.
Michigan’s first funding applications come after Granholm last month signed a memorandum of understanding with other Midwestern states to collaborate on the establishment of a major interstate high-speed rail system.
File photo: Passengers wait for the Amtrak train in the Ann Arbor station.