Ann Arbor will reap benefits of $150 million grant for high-speed rail from Dearborn to Kalamazoo
(This story has been updated with additional comment from the Environmental Law & Policy Center, as well as Jeff Irwin and Mark Schauer.)
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, announced today the state of Michigan will receive $150 million to develop a high-speed rail corridor between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, passing through Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Jackson, Albion and Battle Creek.
The funding was awarded through the fiscal year 2010 High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, Dingell's office said. The U.S. Department of Transportation also announced a second grant for $3.2 million that will pay for planning involved in the project.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said the improvements that will be funded through the grant are a major step forward for the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail line project, as well as eventual high-speed rail all the way from Detroit to Chicago.
“The track improvements needed to enable higher-speed rail to run this line are the same ones that have been holding up MDOT’s east-west commuter rail project that we have been working on," Hieftje said, calling the announcement "very good news" for the regional economy.
"MDOT's already put millions of dollars into the commuter rail, and this is the piece that makes it all work," he said. "What the east-west commuter rail has needed is some track improvements in the Detroit area that will allow spaces for the freights and the passenger trains to pass."
Hieftje noted last year's round of federal funding provided money to make high-speed rail improvements in northern Indiana. He said Amtrak already owns the portion of the track from Kalamazoo to Niles, which has been approved for speeds up to 110 miles per hour.
Being able to improve the Kalamazoo-to-Dearborn portion, he said, is one more piece of the puzzle to allow trains to nearly double their speed between Detroit and Chicago.
"This is huge for us," said Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study. "This will allow this portion of the railroad to get to the higher speed."
Blackmore said the money will allow either the state or Amtrak to purchase a portion of track between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo from Norfolk Southern and make improvements.
"It's a big win for our state, as well as for the city," Blackmore said.
Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor's transportation program manager, noted the significance of the additional $3.2 million planning grant.
"I think that's as important. When the feds fund plans, that's an indication that they understand that there's more work to be done," he said.
Today’s announcement from DOT follows the announcement in January 2010 that Michigan will be receiving $40 million in high-speed rail funding for train station development.
Dingell has been on the forefront fighting for high-speed rail development in the United States, and was one of the authors of the High-Speed Rail Development Act of 1994.
Dingell said the latest grant will enhance alternative transit options and will help Michigan and the United States compete in the global economy.
"The United States has fallen behind in the development of our transit corridors, witnessing China and Japan take the lead in developing successful high-speed rail corridors," he said. "Rail lines in China, Japan and other countries, have brought added benefits from making communities more livable to attracting new industries and companies. If we are to continue to compete with our neighbors, we must make these critical upgrades in our infrastructure."
U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, applauded the news today, saying improvements to the 135 miles of track from Kalamazoo to Dearborn will help bring new jobs to Michigan.
"The economic impact of growing our high speed rail infrastructure is tremendous, and this investment will help expand passenger rail capacity, increase the mobility of our workforce, and create more jobs in Michigan for our workers," Schauer said in a statement.
Schauer worked with Dingell and the DOT to help the Michigan Department of Transportation secure the funds. Schauer is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
He said the improvements will stabilize the Dearborn-to-Kalamazoo corridor and restore intercity passenger rail speeds to 79 mph, with a plan to eventually reach up to 110 mph.
Washtenaw County Commissioner Jeff Irwin, who is heavily favored to become Ann Arbor's next state representative in Lansing, also applauded the news.
"In order for high-speed rail from Detroit to Chicago to happen, there needs to be a substantial upgrade to the rail infrastructure," he said. "Since that rail infrastructure is the same for Ann Arbor-to-Detroit as it is from Kalamazoo to Dearborn, this means better facilities for commuter rail between Ann Arbor, the airport, Dearborn and Detroit.
"The two concepts feed off of one another and an investment in tracks, signals and stations that facilitates one project is a boost for the other."
The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, a group that calls itself the Midwest’s leading environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization, issued a statement of its own today in support of the grant.
"The state that led America to the ‘Century of the Automobile’ is now moving forward with high-speed trains,” Howard Learner, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "Michigan manufacturers, steel fabricators and parts suppliers are among the biggest beneficiaries of a revitalized rail industry that will 'buy American' and create thousands of new jobs. This high-speed rail development will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and grow Michigan’s economy. It's part of a structural transformation of our rail system."
The ELPC said the grant is one of several the federal government will announce this week as it rolls out the second round of competitive funding to develop high-speed rail corridors across the nation. Based on Congressional announcements today, the ELPC said, the largest recipients appear to be Florida at $800 million, California at $902 million, and the Midwest, which is expected to receive $230 million for Chicago-to-Iowa City improvements in addition to the $150 million for the Dearborn-to-Kalamazoo improvements.
Currently, the Obama administration has invested $10.5 billion in high-speed rail projects, with an additional $1 billion pledged for each of the next four years. The House Transportation Committee also has recommended including $50 billion for high-speed rail development in the upcoming transportation reauthorization legislation.
"President Obama recently proposed funding increases for high-speed rail as part of $50 billion in proposed infrastructure improvements," the ELPC said in its statement today. "Under that initiative, high-speed rail would be put on an equal footing in the federal surface transportation program. This fundamental policy change would ensure a sustained and effective commitment to a national high-speed rail system over the next generation. Specifically, the proposal calls for the nation to build and maintain 4,000 miles of rail."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.