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Posted on Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

Environmental groups urge Senate to act swiftly to match federal high-speed rail grants

By Ryan J. Stanton

Michigan will send $161 million in federal high-speed rail funds back to Washington, D.C., if the state Senate doesn't take action to approve the required matching funds.

Two statewide environmental groups issued a statement today, urging senators to follow the lead of the state House and put up the $37 million needed to trigger the federal dollars.

That includes a $150 million federal grant for high-speed rail improvements along the Detroit-to-Chicago corridor, which Ann Arbor officials have been celebrating.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Michigan Environmental Council are calling on residents to contact their senators and make their voices heard.

Awaiting the Senate's approval is House Bill 6484, which was passed by representatives on Nov. 10. It authorizes up to $100 million in state construction bonds, which would more than cover the $37 million federal match requirement.

Ann Arbor clearly has a lot at stake — its Amtrak station is the busiest stop between Detroit and Chicago. And Mayor John Hieftje has said the high-speed rail improvements also would make possible the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail service.

The Senate reconvened today.

"We're optimistic at this point," said Tim Fischer, deputy policy director with the Michigan Environmental Council. "Today is the first day that the Senate has had an opportunity to look at it, and the Senate has a lot on its plate. We're hopeful they'll come around and pass this so we can get going on these projects."

"Ann Arbor really is the center of these projects," Fischer added, noting that some of the remaining state bond money — after the $37 million match — could go toward the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Howell service line.

He also noted the bonding authority already exists.

"So the question is not whether we'll sell bonds, but what we'll sell bonds for," Fischer said. 

He said if the state doesn't dedicate the money to rail projects, it'll just fund projects like airport hangars where the return on investment is "nominal at best."

The two environmental groups are asking residents in communities that are directly affected by the outcome of the vote — including Detroit, Dearborn, Kalamazoo, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor — to call their senators this week. They said it’s also important to contact Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, who is responsible for calling the bill to the Senate floor.

Click here for senator contact information.


Michigan environmental groups say the future of high-speed and commuter rail projects in the state hinges on a pending Senate vote.

File photo

The bill already has the support of state Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor.

Brater said she's hopeful the bill will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote before the current session is over, but it's hard to say. She said high-speed rail would be "a huge step forward for Michigan" with many spinoff benefits, including improved air quality and quality of life, and it would help limit urban sprawl.

"It's definitely an advantage," she said.

Local leaders say establishing regular rail service between Detroit, Dearborn, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor is important, as Southeast Michigan is the only major metropolitan area in the U.S. without light or commuter rail.

“Michigan is a state built on transportation,” Lisa Wozniak, the Ann Arbor-based LCV’s executive director, said in a statement. “While automobiles remain important, especially next-generation vehicles like the Chevy Volt, our state also needs to invest in high-speed and commuter rail for the promise it holds. That includes a lower carbon footprint for our state and faster commutes that can spur tourism and job growth across Michigan.”

The newly elected governors of Wisconsin and Ohio are refusing to accept almost $1.3 billion in federal high-speed rail grants. U.S. transportation officials are now making plans for the redistribution of those funds to states that will accept them.

Incoming New York governor Andrew Cuomo has said publicly his administration would gladly take the cash. Fischer said he's hoping to hear a similar statement from Michigan Gov.-elect Rick Snyder to demonstrate Michigan's interest to federal officials.

A spokesperson for Snyder's transition team could not be reached for comment today.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Sat, Dec 4, 2010 : 11:32 p.m.

"BNSF does Chicago to LA in a little more than 48 hours. No truck can come close to that speed. Only way to do it faster is by aircraft." Actually, they could do it even faster - team drivers, one sleeps in the sleeper, the other drives, stop only for food and fuel - 2050 driving miles Chi-town to LA. Very plausible and practical for cargo that must go quickly, but is too bulky or otherwise problematic for airfreight, or that is sensitive and needs to go door to door. I didn't realize that cow flatulence, properly identified, was on the censor's list of bad words. My, my - they are overly sensitive here. "if they paid the true cost of their road use, even mid-and short hauls likely would move to railroad." Some perhaps, depending on distance and type of cargo, but most would just pay the extra freight for the convenience of door-to-door service. Trucks can go all kinds of places that will never see a rail line. A moot point, in any case, because they are not likely to change much. "Yes, I'm certain that that's what they were using before construction began on the I/S Highway system in the 1950s." Actually, they just had state and county highways, and many were paved and relatively well maintained. I have relatives who travelled between Michigan and Pennsylvania by car in the '30s. Not to difficult, actually. As for the Europeans, they have financial problems of their own caused by overly generous and unsustainable state spending on many things, pricey rail systems among them. They have lots of chickens coming home to roost, and so will we if we pursue the path of public profligacy. The US reminds me of the Brits, at the turn of the last century - still a dominant force in the world, but on the wane as others emerge. I don't see a lot of inspirational leadership in either political party. The Fortune 50 have more say about what goes on in this country than all the voters, combined.


Sat, Dec 4, 2010 : 8:26 p.m.

Hmmmm... let me know the next time a train delivers your latest Amazon purchase to your front door. The simple fact is that trains are suitable for very large amounts of cargo that need to go long distances, but not too quickly. Even then, the goods get put on a truck to be distributed locally or regionally. And many overnight packages move by truck, also, on a local or regional basis. Before the auto, individual transportation meant the horse (or the horse and buggy/stagecoach) for local and regional trips. Rail was used for longer trips, where available and convenient. As soon as cars became widely available and affordable, and roads improved somewhat - horses went back to the farm. As far as the US vs. other developed countries - who cares?! After the WWll, we rebuilt just about all of Europe, and a variety of other places, from the ground, up. So, of course they have more modern rail systems. We made other choices, and created a world-class interstate highway system that is still the envy of many, even if not as well-maintained as it once was. Weight restrictions and fees vary by state, and yes, Michigan does allow VERY heavy trucks on the roads. The upside to that is because they can haul more, so it takes fewer trips to haul a given amount of cargo. Say from the library lot big dig, to wherever. What you and I think about all this doesn't really matter anymore, anyway. With the Republicans resurgent at both the state and federal level, and the looming problems posed by the deficits at all levels of government, spending on grandiose money-traps like high speed rail, is likely high on list of things to be cut, especially in poor states like Michigan, whose political clout is waning.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 4 p.m.

In 2009, 130,656 people used Amtrak in Ann Arbor, an average of 358 per day. The daily traffic count for US-23 between Ann Arbor and Brighton is around 70,000. If we spend as much as $2 million to improve the rails, by comparison we should expand US-23 to three lane each way. This train stuff is insane. Never have so few asked for so much from the government.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:57 p.m.

@stunisblind Apparently you've come to the conclusion that nobody rides trains in the US, despite the fact that ridership is strong, and measured in the hundreds of thousands on the Wolverine line in Michigan, and across the nation, Amtrak ridership is measured in millions, and has been increasing over the past decade. I'm not sure how to discuss this with you if you ignore reality.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 5:42 a.m.

Actually, Michigan takes in more revenue from fuel and vehicle registration taxes than it spends in road construction and maintenance. It's not even close. Our fuel taxes fund other parts of the state budget. So there's no excuse for allowing roads and bridges to fall apart. And there's no excuse for subsidizing a train system relatively few people use.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:29 a.m.

Would love to see the source and figures for driving in 2007, 2008 and 2009. It would be nice to see figures posted by someone else for a change.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:39 p.m.

@EMRG and BHall, Hold your hands over your ears and scream as loud as you can so the facts don't reach your ears. The facts are people don't ride trains in the USA except where it makes sense ( the northestern states). If you want to add bullet trains and pay to update the rail tracks I not only suggest but also demand that you raise the ticket prices to support the changes. I have gone on Amtrak two times in the past 30 years and that was so I could party with my friends to watch the Lions lose to the Chicago Bears. Raise prices for those that ride the train, leave the rest of us alone, puuleeease!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:53 p.m.

Quotes from further above: "... Hello people, we are broke! It doesn't matter how nice it would be, how fast it would be, what it would do for our "carbon footprint "you don't buy things you can't afford unless you're irresponsible or can print money...." "... We can't afford the operating expenses to keep the trains running." For those who claim to believe that we can't "afford" to improve commuter rail lines, then I'd hope that you will likewise call for an immediate end to the vast programs of taxpayer-financed road work. Once we stop throwing state and federal funds at our roads and vehicles, you'll get to keep a lot more cash in your wallets! The roadways will eventually begin to ride like a moon surface, but — hey — the government will be smaller as a result, and your taxes will be reduced. After that, just maybe, we could begin financing road repair through bake sales organized in the private sector.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

@Bhall - According to Amtrak the ridership on the Wolverine line (Pontiac to Chicago) fell from 2008 to 2009. Wolverine Service Passengers 2009 - 444,127 2008 - 472,393 2007 - 449,107 Revenue 2009 - $15,041,919 2008 - $16,243,510 2007 - $14,934,656 According to the PEW Trust - Amtrak lost $31.12 per passenger in 2008. According to the State of Michigan website, Michigan has paid an average of $7 million dollars a year to subsidize this service. With 3 round trips a day, the average train has just over 200 passengers. I have riden on Friday night trains when there are no empty seats and on Tuesday morning trains with a whole car to myself. So the loading varies greatly.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:04 a.m.

I support improving the rails to Detroit and Chicago. These are lines that will be used. But, the WALLY line (Howell to Ann Arbor) is a complete boondoggle that will have very limited use. Put the whole $200 Million into the project that will benefit the most rail passengers.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:14 a.m.

stunhsif -Michigan freeways lose money, roads lose money. What's your point? Why is it so bad to maintain more than one mode of transportation? That's great you drive, good for you, pat yourself on the back! Ask yourself this question, if everbody lived like you, what would your life be like? Would you have the same quality of life? For instance, maybe you drive to downtown Ann Arbor to work, shop or eat. Others bike, walk or take the AATA. Now, what if everybody drove downtown? Would that be a good idea? Can you say gridlock, no parking, smog, etc. So again, why is it such a bad idea for the public to invest in multiple modes of transportation. My point about ridership was that it is growing, despite the poor economy, and despite our lack of investment in the service.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

DoNotTauntHappyFunBall said: "Michigan has some of the poorest truck weight laws in the nation - and you and I pay for that in many many ways". And if you reduce weight limits on tractor trailer rigs you will pay more for any products you purchase whether it is laundry soap or food products. Bhall said: "Amtrak ridership is up by 5 million trips comparing fy 2009 to fy 2003." Amtrak costs the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It has lost money every year it has existed. So your point is what exactly? I don't ride trains I drive my car. If you want to ride a train, have at it. Raise the prices for train tickets to pay for new tracks and 100 mph trains.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:24 a.m.

Perhaps we could make US 94 a full toll road (like Ohio and Ind) and then put in true high speed rail (with those funds) to move the truck-loads to the rails - speeding up all traffic in Michigan and helping to lessen the road damage all those trucks do every day. The orange barrels have to go. Michigan has some of the poorest truck weight laws in the nation - and you and I pay for that in many many ways.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

spend $37 million to get 160 million? seems like a no brainer. a better deal than anything you'd find on black friday.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:02 a.m.

In the 1950's, our country decided the highway was the best way to move people and things. We have all kinds of land for highways, unlike europe and Japan. Thanks to Henry Ford, average people can own cars and pay gas taxes to fund road construction and maintenance. Only in busy congested cities where parking and driving are a real problem, do trains and subways make sense. that is why Amtrak doesn't make sense. If it did, it would make money without tax payer help. Trains are a waste of time and money for anything except hauling heavy freight. Freight trains pay for themselves and make money for their stockholders. And, there is no good evidence that trains for people do anything to improve commerce. Raise gas taxes if needed but stick to what MOST people love and use, automobiles.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:01 a.m.

NO!!!! Give it back. We can't afford the operating expenses to keep the trains running.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:55 a.m.

No brainer is right, keep spending and taxing. Hello people, we are broke! It doesn't matter how nice it would be, how fast it would be, what it would do for our "carbon footprint "you don't buy things you can't afford unless you're irresponsible or can print money. Oh I forgot we can print money, so much that our currency will soon become worthless just like the high speed rail system we "must "have. I never thought I'd live to see the day so many stupid people would exist in one place at the same time. God help us.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:36 a.m.

Without matching renewed bus or subway around the railway stations, this is a pie in the sky thing. Who would like to spend 3 hours on the train to Chicago then another couple of hours of getting on the buses and/or a few times on L in order to get to say, O'hare airport? (or any point in the near suburbs, Evanston, Skokie, Oakpark,..... you name it). Transportation plan has to tie to urban plan. The European and Asian living environment and set-ups are so different from ours, something successful there doesn't guarantee a success here. We have spent majority of our tranportation money on the interstate system (yes, not even air transportaion, let along rail) for more than 40 years, and the urban spraw follwed it in locked steps. It will take much more than a few spotty "higher" speed rails to fix that.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:38 a.m.

The Amtrak route between Pontiac and Chicago is jammed right now even thought it is "iffy" on schedule due to sharing tracks. The business class tickets are sold out well in advance. If you need to see proof, take the train to Chicago and then ride the multiple commuter trains in and out of downtown Chicago, connecting to the thriving suburbs. Some would say that the suburbs are thriving and that's why the trains are beneficial. But would those suburbs be thriving if the trains didn't connect them to downtown? Spend a couple of work days back and forth from Union Station and see what we are missing.....pollution free connectivity that keeps a city and surrounding suburbs thriving. They are installing lots of new track and some new train bridges there....looking toward the future instead of wringing their hands and being afraid of tomorrow. Good for them! The track from Chicago to St Louis is being upgraded to a faster connection as well. All the time the old guard in Michigan holds onto their cars and fears the future.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 11:16 p.m.

@ stunhsif Amtrak ridership is up by 5 million trips comparing fy 2009 to fy 2003. Since fy 2009, ridership has gone up again, according to another Amtrak fact sheet. You can bet it will increase as the economy improves and some areas invest in infrastructure. In Michigan, the Wolverine service going through Ann Arbor carried 210,000 passengers last year, and showed increased growth last spring, despite the dismal economy.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 10:54 p.m.

Hopefully we'll also stop funding those highways that also operate at a terrible operating loss... As the article says, the bonding authority already exists. That means if the state doesn't bond for this project, it will bond for something else. Will that something else also have a more than three times match of federal dollars? Will it go to creating a robust infrastructure such as this? Money should be spent wisely. I believe this is a good return on the state's investment. Michigan isn't an island; we need improved transportation connections to the region.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 10:54 p.m.

The Federal Gov't handing out money they don't actually have(they just print it) and demanding states spend money they don't have on projects like high speed rail which really isn't high speed rail and will still need to be subsidized by the gov't( meaning us, the taxpayers) just like Amtrak has been forever because there are not enough passengers. Pure lunacy, get ready for hyper-inflation in a few years.

Stephen Landes

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 10:34 p.m.

One commenter wants us to emulate the wise decisions of Illinois and New York. You mean the same Illinois and New York that are financial basket cases? They may actually be in worse shape than Michigan! I love rail, too, but we have no business borrowing $37 million which we cannot afford to build something that is incomplete and for which future funding (considering the deficit the current administration is running) is in serious doubt. The last thing we need to do is spend a ton of borrowed money on something that won't be finished and is likely to run an operating LOSS which we will all have to pay for.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 6:47 p.m.

Arghh, the WALLY boondoggle is still being discussed. If there's money "left over" after pilfering the taxpayers, it should go back to the taxpayers. WALLY is not a financially responsible project, and should not be encouraged. Any lawmaker who still supports it after reading the studies is either a charlatan or not intellectually capable of governing.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 6:30 p.m.

Please fix our roads first. If our state is already having trouble matching federal highway funds, why create more financial problems? Once we can adequately maintain our existing infrastructure, then we can start talking about "new mousetraps". Didn't we just read about the poor condition of our bridges. How am I going to get to the train station if the bridge is closed???


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 6:18 p.m.

Kill the motion Governor-Elect Synder with the line-item veto pen. This is pork.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 6:09 p.m.

What actual evidence is there to support this idea?


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 6:08 p.m.

Ryan - That is nice, but if you look at roadbed requirements, this does not ever get you to anything over 100MPH without completely ripping the tracks out and starting over. I have learned overtime that if something is good enough, it will never get much better. I would rather see this done right the first time. Having riden fast trains all over the world, I would love to see one here.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 5:35 p.m.

So where is this money Dingel promised us? We are not renewing EB, schools are going to heck in a handbag and now the senate has to agree to this? Looks like another empty bagged promised by another run down Senator. Thanks Dingel. Dingels keeping us dangling again. Great idea but with the economy the way it is going? Don't think so, again.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 5:16 p.m.

@fun ball The actual federal bill was for high speed AND intercity passenger rail improvements. You can't walk before you can crawl. Creating true high speed rail would take lots more money than is available; Amtrak owns a portion of the tracks, but not all, and the rest is shared with freight. But this money would significantly reduce bottlenecks and avoid delays. It's a small fraction of what we spend on highways, and would improve the reliability and efficiency of an alternative transportation sector. Seems like a good idea to me.

Joel Batterman

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 5:15 p.m.

Governor-elect Snyder needs to make like his counterpart in New York, and request that Michigan receive additional federal rail funds if Wisconsin and Ohio give up theirs. We might not be able to beat them at football, but we can swipe their trains if we have a mind to. These funds obviously won't get us high-speed rail on the European or Asian level, but we've got to start somewhere. Senator Bishop's number is 517-373-2417. Anyone who doubts the economic (not to say environmental) returns from rail should read the Public Interest Group report on the subject:


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 5:12 p.m.

Can we fix our schools first?

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:59 p.m.

Please send the money back ASAP. - So 110mph is considered "high speed"? It is fast - sure - but 9 out of 10 folks think high speed rail means bullet trains travelling at over 150 if not 200mph. More political marketing trickery.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:47 p.m.

People seem to be forgetting these trains will be running in both directions. We need to stop forgetting about all the Chicagoans who could potentially head East and spend their hard earned dollar in Michigan.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:44 p.m.

Hmmmm... let's see. The newly elected Republican governors of two nearby states have turned-down considerably more money than is at stake in Michigan. We, too, have a newly elected Republican governor, as well as a state senate with a Republican majority, and both are skeptical of the Obama administration and its various boondoggles. Doesn't seem to bode well, even though the dollar amounts are relatively modest. $37 million here, and $37 million there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:42 p.m.

Do it!  Pass the House-approved Bill 6484 in the State Senate right away! From the report above:...The newly elected governors of Wisconsin and Ohio are refusing to accept almost $1.3 billion in federal high-speed rail grants.... Incoming New York governor Andrew Cuomo has said publicly his administration would gladly take the cash. From the related news article linked in this report: In Illinois, which has already received $1.2 billion for high-speed rails, politicians are clamoring to lay down more tracks, Gov. Pat Quinn said.... Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said, "I'll tell you, some day in the future, Wisconsin and Ohio will look back and say, we missed an opportunity." Unfortunately, the active voters in Wisconsin and Ohio have elected a couple of bozos to take over as their respective governors. In Michigan, we still have an opportunity to not follow their lead, but instead to take as our example the more forward thinking presently found in New York and Illinois. A rational transportation development policy calls for higher investment in commuter rail, not increased tax subsidies to underwrite personal vehicles.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:30 p.m.

Our elected representatives on both sides of the isle have penchant for sending badly needed funds back to the Federal Government. The high speed rail will help commerce, the environment and create jobs.

Top Cat

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:19 p.m.

The other question about this proposed "investment" is, other than the interest cost of the bonds, would this trigger any additional annual costs to the state budget on an ongoing basis? The "carbon footprint" and "job growth" justification is for people that believe in the Tooth Fairy.


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:17 p.m.

110 to Chicago? I do that on I-94;-) I do slow down for Indiana, though.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4:09 p.m.

@DonBee It's definitely not going to be anything like the bullet trains you see in other countries like China, which can top 200 mph. From "The money will be used to buy the decrepit tracks from Kalamazoo to Dearborn and make improvements in Detroit. Freight trains have run fine at 40 miles per hour. Amtrak has been ok at 75. But now the tracks will be improved enough for Amtrak to hit 110 all the way to Chicago."


Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 4 p.m.

Slowest high speed rail in the world, is what we will get from matching these fund. I love trains and riding to Chicago, but this is at best a 10 percent fix.

Jim Mulchay

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 3:49 p.m.

This seems like an easy "yes" for matching funds - but... part of budget crisis (federal, state, local, etc.) is that no one ever seems to say "no" - every project seems to be worthy of investment and critical to someone - the argument often seems to be "we can't afford NOT to accept the money";