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Posted on Wed, May 30, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Stabenow says Ann Arbor-to-Detroit rail effort moving slower than she'd like

By Ryan J. Stanton

MACKINAC ISLAND — Three candidates looking to represent Michigan in the U.S. Senate offered different opinions on regional rail and mass transit on Wednesday.

Incumbent Debbie Stabenow, the only Democrat on the ballot, said she's bullish on the prospect of increased public transit services in Southeast Michigan.

"When I was in the House, I started a process they're working on right now to (improve rail services) from Ann Arbor down past the airport into Detroit," she said. "And that's moving along slower than I would like, but I think we've got the makings."

In relation to Ann Arbor, two separate rail initiatives are under way: a push for high-speed rail from Detroit to Chicago and commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Senator Stabenow.jpg

Debbie Stabenow

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Cornerstone Schools founder Clark Durant — two of the Republicans competing for the chance to challenge Stabenow in November — had different views on issues of mass transit.

"I went up to Lansing and I listened to all these people say, 'If you don't get these subsidies for the Ann Arbor railroad, it's gone.' And I said wait a minute, it's already gone," Durant said, expressing doubts about federal subsidies for transit projects.

Durant specifically mentioned the push to build a light rail line on Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to New Center, an effort with significant private backing. He suggested every mass transit project should have significant private investment.

"You really have to say to yourself, 'Is this going to be self-sustaining or are we creating just another People Mover that has to continually be subsidized in different ways?' " he said. "I think you have to look at the business plan. You have to say, 'If this is so viable, then let's see if we can get private capital.' Private capital came around the Keystone Pipeline."

The Michigan Senate race took center stage Wednesday afternoon during the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

The session was moderated by Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta, who pressed all three candidates on where they stand on building a new bridge from Detroit to Canada.

When asked if she supported the concept as proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder, Stabenow offered a simple "yes" and smiled as the crowd applauded.

Asked whether he thought it was in Michigan's economic interest to have a new publicly owned bridge to Canada, Hoekstra he's not sure it has to be publicly owned.

"Personally I'd like to see private money as part of the solution," he said.

"Detroit was located where it was because it has the potential to be a great transportation hub, he added. "If it is going to be a great transportation hub, it is not just about a bridge, it is about a bridge, it is about a tunnel, it is about the airport. These are all assets to the state of Michigan."

Durant said the more the nation can expand trade, the better.

"Because, frankly, Debbie is quite right," he said. "You know, 94 percent of the customers in the world are outside our borders."

But he said if a second bridge is necessary, private capital ought to be there to do it.

"I think we should open up markets," he added. "And I'm not in favor of monopolies whether they be private or public, so I would encourage, if there is enough traffic to justify it, well then fine. Let's see if the private money can come together."

Durant said he's not in favor of a publicly owned bridge because it would cost more and more as time goes on, and if it is a vital corridor, there should be the private capital.

Stabenow talked up the Detroit light rail effort, as well as the prospect of bus rapid transit linking Detroit to Macomb and Oakland counties. She touted the level of private investments being made in Detroit and tied that to the mass transit discussion.

"It's not a just a line to say we have CEOs running toward Detroit. We do," she said. "Unlike other cities that I know. It's extraordinary."

Asked whether he'd work to find federal funding for transportation projects in Michigan, Hoekstra mostly dodged the question, saying his preferred alternative is that transportation dollars collected in Michigan should stay in Michigan.

That way, he said, Michigan can establish its own priorities and fund them without needing a U.S. senator to go out and convince other senators to "subsidize a bridge in Michigan."

"If Michigan wanted to build a turtle fence, they could," he said.

"Rick needs a friend in Washington to help move the Michigan agenda forward," he added. "Michigan should decide the format, the structure and the need for building a new bridge."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:41 p.m.

Nov.2010 Depot town Rag: Commutertrain a bit behind schedule ..... MITRAIN( Events trains to run in fall 2010 : ride the train to the thanksgiving Day parade ..... Rep.John Dingell iussed $ 200 Million for the project. in 2010 ! Nov.10 2010 The Michigan House passed HB 6484 iusseing a $ 100 million bond. SenL-brater@ iussed $ 150 million matching Fund.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

Debbie already exported thousands of high paying pharmaceutical jobs out of Ann Arbor, now she wants to turn Ann Arbor into Detroit's sister ghetto. Let's get rid of this disconnected Democrat in the next election.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

Only a politician...................

Top Cat

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 4 p.m.

Half empty trains from somewhere to nowhere paid for by more deficit spending is what Senator Stabenow is all about.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Got suppressed for speaking the truth.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

That's typical. Bromides and baseless claims are allowed and encouraged, but to challenge statements with facts or contrary opinion is a sure violation of conversational guidelines.

Ron Granger

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

If it is a viable business venture, the bridge should be privately funded. Isn't that what Snyder keeps saying about everything? The working tax payers of Michigan have really been getting the shaft, and that is just one more way Snyder wants to stick us.

Ron Granger

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

"Asked whether he'd work to find federal funding for transportation projects in Michigan, Hoekstra mostly dodged the question" "Joekstra" apparently didn't get the memo. Michigan residents pay more to the Fed in taxes than we get back. So we expect our Senators to fight to get our paid taxes back.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Why we need a rail line to Detroit when I-94 retains a tremendous amount of spare capacity is beyond me. Then again, the progressive infatuation with rail in this country continues to confound me.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

"the progressive infatuation with rail in this country continues to confound me." It's simple. Follow the money. The companies that build the choo choo trains will make campaign contributions to the politicians that vote for rail. The unions that represent the employees that build the trains and infrastructure will collect dues from the employees and will then turn around and make campaign contributions to politicians that voted for rail. Once the system is operating, the unions that represent the employees who operate the system will collect dues and make campaign contributions to politicians that "support rail." This will all be paid for with our tax dollars. Think of it as the circle of life.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

Silly Sally- All else aside, there's a technical argument to be made for transforming freeways into automated chains of cars, all running at high speed in close quarters and efficiently routed to their destination by modern design. A sci-fi conceptual depiction of this can be found in "Minority Report." Once you have arrived at your exit point, control of the automobile is returned to the driver.

Silly Sally

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

Control - they can control a train. Same reason why they love a single lane Jackson Road. Everyone behind Granny, Can't have the freedom of two lanes. Oh, no. Control. Next is mandated self driving cars, with GPS recorders. Sounds silly, but not to some...

mike umbolt

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

Improved rail along this corridor will bring big economic gains for the whole region.

mike umbolt

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

Right easy, best to stifle anything that will improve the economy or bring any new people to ann arbor. Besides, nobody wants good paying jobs for their kids anyway. Lets just hunker down with our food caches and weapons...


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

What a tired old row. "It will create jobs and improve the economy!" To those who tout this often-flogged excuse, the concept of "opportunity cost" is as foreign as the value of other people's money. There's no comprehension of the idea that monies spent on rail might have been put to a more productive use elsewhere.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

If you love the public transportation in NY, please be my guest and pack up and join them. There is a lifestyle choice herre. Do we want Ann Arbor to an bedroom community of Detroit or even become a major city with a large population. I don't think so- Ann Arbor has already changed in the last 30 years - and not for the better

Jim Osborn

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:36 a.m.

The reason why a US Senator or Congressman needs to be involved in a local matter such as the railroad crossing regulations for a Detroit to Ann Arbor rail line is that they all are controlled by federal agencies, the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) and the MUTCD (Manual Uniform Traffic Control Devices) by the FHA (Federal Highway Administration), with some MDOT tweaks. Metrolink began in the Los Angeles area 15 years ago on existing freight lines. They greatly increased the frequency of the trains and often doubled the speeds, but did nothing to upgrade the crossings, as they met the inadequate federal standards. Google "Death on the Rails" and the first hit will be a LA Times front page article with 3 additional pages that describe the dangers at just one crossing, the one where my mother died 6 years ago, 3 years after 2 others died at this same crossing. 34 people were also injured. A total of 10 crossing accidents, trains striking motor vehicles have happened at this single crossing.,0,2843534.story The rail industry and the City of Burbank's response is to ALWAYS blame the driver, even while bodies are still in the wreckage. The actual causes is later determined by the NTSB to be the crossing design.

j hampton

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

I went to New York City a few weeks ago to watch the Yankees beat the Tiges. (that was not the plan). My son took the train from Philadelphia to meet me. We spent the weekend and saw most of Manhattan and the Bronx and took the subway everywhere. We then took the train to Baltimore, just a few hours away. I did not need to rent a car the entire weekend. It was fantastic. No need to drive. No need to pay to park a car at the hotel. Pedestians were everywhere. People routinely walked several blocks to get places and I noticed the population was markedly thinner. But yes, this type of infrastructure is paid for by government. It is a shame that at the turn of the last century politicians and city planners had vision and hope and now are afraid to spend any money and just want to make sure to always criticize any plan put forth by the other side. If you haven't been to a city with effective mass transit, visit one before you post your negative I hate the liberals comments.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Yes lets look to NYC. I heard they will outlaw soda in bottle larger then 16 onces, now thats foward thinking. LOL!


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

...And of course, all of this works due to the fact that the New York Greater Metropolitan area is the densest in terms of population in the entire nation. But ya, we can go ahead and transplant that right here to cozy little Ann Arbor. Dream on.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

Michigan does not have the population density of the east coast. One needs to have a sufficiently dense population to support rail.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

Lets see - She wants a rail system to connect the liberals in Ann Arbor to the liberals in Detroit and perhaps mingle the affluent and influential thinkers with the masses that don't have a pot to P!$$ in? To what gain/

Jim Osborn

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:17 a.m.

Senator Debbie Stabenow complains that little has been done to advance light rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor, yet she has done nothing to make this rail system safer by strengthening federal rail safety regulations governing rail crossings. Taking her statement at face value, she is advocating a rail system that will not have safe crossings. The end result will be many needless railroad crossing accidents and deaths. Examples are plenty, the Metrolink and MTA systems in the greater Los Angeles area are two. "As long as people obey traffic signals and warning signs, they will be safe, the officials say" This is very true, and the crux of the problem, the standard warning signs are not effective, and university studies have demonstrated that alternatives are more effective. The standard crossbuck is a gray color, up high where it is unnoticed as it blends in with a cloudy or smoggy sky. Europeans use a bright red and white at eye level that attracts attention. The standard W10-3 series ( "when you turn, you will be crossing tracks") sign is unrecognized by most and not even on the driver's test. Thus, much of the standard signage is ineffective and ignored and not seen by all.

Jim Van Buren

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

This boondoggle is not moving slow enough for me. Ms. Stabenow has to talk in terms of the future, she has done nothing noteworthy in the past.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 5:57 a.m. now Debbie is the talking head for this failed project...


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 10:51 a.m.

She's famous for being involved with failed spending ideas.

Dog Guy

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 4:13 a.m.

Senator Levin shows courage in letting her out in public during an election year.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

This is a convulated article not representative of the headline.... Not sure why Debbie needs a rail between AA and Deeeeetroit.... Her ex is no longer hanging out at the gentlemans clus on Mich Ave..... But....if AA is looking to shag a few Escalades Chrysler 300's....let's go for it!


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 2:42 a.m.

Your comment is "convulated".

wolfman jack

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

Why no progress ? Just cars, baby, cars. (Paraphrase Al Davis ). Detroit automotive paid cities and towns to rip up local rail to buy bus. Then, crushed bus with cars (status, privacy, convenience ). I'd be surprised if this region ever did develop mass transit.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:41 a.m.

Talk talk talk, and..more talk. Sorry, just so sick of the "we're making great progress" lip service. Why can't this region (or state) ever actually get past the planning/design phase of mass transit initiatives and actually get a project built (like every other big city)? Detroit light rail, AA-Detroit commuter rail, that detroit-lansing elevated train proposal, etc. Yes, a rhetorical the answer is clearly political will. Not trying to start an argument with the "who's gonna pay for it" or "i've supported public transit enough my with tax dollars" crowd...i just feel like we've spent decades of millions of dollars just PLANNING and TALKING about these projects. Just do it already. Status quo is what got this state into this mess.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

RE: Mike and CynicA2 comments-- I get what you're saying....and you're definitely correct about the state of the MI economy and population trends. My point is, if the numbers don't lie, then why do they keep proposing these same projects, spend millions to study the hell out of them, and then just put them on the shelf time after time? I just feel that they should either see a single project through completion and actually get some benefit...or not waste any taxpayer money studying it for years and years. Our city/regional/transportations planners could be put to better use.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

Not only broke, but DE-populating as well. This state needs more public transit boondoggles like Wiley Coyote needs another Road Runner.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 10:50 a.m.

Why can't this region (or state) ever actually get past the planning/design phase of mass transit initiatives and actually get a project built (like every other big city)? Because we're broke..................?

Joe Hood

Thu, May 31, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

That's better than if all the money was spent and the train ran slow.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, May 30, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

She's a Liberal. Anything that involves the spending of taxpayer's money moves slower than she would like.


Thu, May 31, 2012 : 12:45 a.m.

Republican or liberal, with those who are running Michigan nowadays I can't tell one from the other.