transportation

Two days ago, a beaming Gov. Rick Snyder opened the annual conference of our state?s economic and political elites on an upbeat note. He cited the official themes the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce set for their annual Mackinac Conference. "Innovation, Collaboration and the Twenty-First Century Global Marketplace." Those are things he himself is all about.

Whether you agree with his positions or not, this governor wants what he thinks are rational policies aimed at giving this state a future. But the morning after his triumphant welcome, the governor had to again admit defeat over an issue that shouldn't even be an issue: Road funding. Too many Michigan roads are in poor shape, and a whole lot more are rapidly getting worse. Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Transportation estimated ninety per cent of our roads are in good or fair condition, which seemed too high to me.

But the state also calculated that unless we start investing far more heavily in our roads, only 44 percent will be in acceptable shape a mere eight years from now. That would be a disaster.

railroad tracks
Ian Britton / creative commons

A strike by Canadian railway workers threatens to slow or shut down production at some U.S. auto plants.

5,000 Canadian Pacific Railway workers walked off the job early Wednesday because of a dispute with management over a new contract.

Large numbers of finished vehicles and auto parts come to U.S. factories via Canadian Pacific.

Ford and General Motors say they don't expect the strike to affect production - at this time.

Chrysler says it is actively working to mitigate any impact to its operations through alternative shipment methods, such as trucks.

The longer the strike goes, the greater the chance it could affect the U.S. auto industry.  The Canadian Labor Ministry says it has the authority to intervene and will do that if the two sides haven't reached a deal by Monday.

S.S. Badger
Bill McChesney / Flickr

The Lake Michigan car ferry S.S. Badger started what could be its final sailing season today.

The historic ship burns coal as its fuel and dumps the leftover coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The EPA has said the ship needs to stop this practice. They've given the owners until the end of this year to come up with a solution, but the owners want more time.

Dave Alexander of MLive reported on a press conference held by the ship's owners this morning:

Before the 9:15 a.m. departure from its Ludington dock for the four-hour trip across a lumpy Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wis., Lake Michigan Carferry co-owner Bob Manglitz announced his company has made application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue its coal ash dumping practices another five years.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on legislation in the U.S. House that "would allow the Badger to continue to dump coal ash because it's been nominated as a national historic landmark." She reports environmental groups are fighting against the designation.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new federal transportation funding bill.

The last funding bill expired in 2009.   Congress has passed a series of extensions of the old law since then.  

A coalition of Michigan environmental groups and unions say the ongoing delay is hurting state roads.

Mark Schauer is the head of the BlueGreen Alliance.   The former Michigan congressman says the state’s roads are deteriorating, in part, because Congress can’t agree on a new six year federal transportation spending plan.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that had to replace a tire as a result of hitting a huge pothole," says Schauer.

Michigan Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton are on the special House-Senate conference committee working on the transportation bill. A spokeswoman for the committee says discussions continue with hopes of reaching an agreement before the deadline at the end of next month. 

MDOT

As part of the work on the "Gateway Project," the Michigan Department of Transportation opened an access road that will move truck traffic coming from Canada over the Ambassador Bridge directly on to nearby highways.

Prior to the road opening, trucks had to drive on secondary streets in southwest Detroit to get to the highways.

The Detroit Free Press reports the road opened yesterday, and a ceremony for the opening is planned for today.

The Detroit News reports the opening comes 5 days ahead of schedule, but because of the legal battles around the Gateway Project, the road opening is really years behind schedule.

In actuality, the opening of the access road comes about four years behind schedule because of protracted legal battles between MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Co. over the $230 million Gateway Project.

When completely finished, the project will remove up to 10,000 trucks a day from secondary streets in southwest Detroit and move them directly to and from the Ambassador Bridge plaza to nearby freeways.

The project was supposed to be a partnership between MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Company, but a judge found the DIBC to be in civil contempt of court after the company didn't follow the judge's orders to complete the project.

On March 8, the judge ordered the DIBC to cede control of its portion of the project and ordered MDOT to complete the remaining work.

MDOT says 95 percent of the new truck route is completed, and about 20 percent of the overall project is completed. When will it be finished? MDOT says their goal is to be done with the project "within a year and hopefully much sooner."

Here's MDOT's take on the overall project:

Travel and Leisure magazine

You gotta give them a lot of clicks to find the ranking on their page (can someone say pageviews!), but once you finally get there, you'll see that readers of Travel and Leisure ranked Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) as the 3rd best airport in the country.

Detroit’s airport is at the top of its game, ranked No. 1 in terminal cleanliness, design, location, lounges, and business centers. It came in third for service and staff communication and fourth in baggage handling. As Delta’s second largest hub and the carrier’s primary gateway for Asia, that’s no mean feat. The airport fell short only when it came to public transportation options—not surprising considering you’ve landed in the Motor City.

Viable public transport to Detroit Metro has always been a problem. Some are making attempts to improve the situation.

Just recently, the public transportation system in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, announced a partnership with a private company, Michigan Flyer, to provide cheaper transit to the airport.

Twelve bucks will get you from A2 to DTW. That's better than a typical $40 to $50 cab ride.

The best airport named by readers was Minneapolis (MSP)... the worst was New York's LaGuardia (LGA) - JFK and Newark airports also ranked poorly.

Sound about right to you?

screen grab from YouTube video

Back in December, it seemed a 3-mile light rail project in Detroit along Woodward Avenue was put on the scrap heap when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood raised doubts that Detroit could pay the operating costs for the proposed line.

In discussions, Detroit Mayor Bing, Gov. Snyder, and LaHood opted for a rapid bus system instead.

But as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek has been reporting, private investors who were backing the light rail project pushed back on the bus idea.

Now the Detroit Free Press reports the M-1 Rail Group says they'll put up the money to run the system for the first 10 years.

The M-1 Rail Group outlined the details in a report it has sent to the federal government. The group of private investors and philanthropic groups behind the effort said they would commit to paying the estimated $5.1 million annual cost of operating the Woodward rail line through 2025.

After the first ten years, the group says they would donate the system "to the appropriate agency, such as a regional transit authority that Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature are working to create for southeast Michigan..."

On Earth Day, turning the Motor City into "Cycle City"

Apr 20, 2012
courtesy Detroit Tigers

Let’s face it: Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is unshakeable. But it’s gaining ground as a city for cyclists.

Flickr user alicegop

Here's another reason to pay your parking tickets: Your driver's license could be blocked.

A Michigan law kicking in on May 16 says three unpaid parking tickets can prevent renewal of a license. The current threshold is six.

Local governments notify the secretary of state when someone has too many unpaid parking tickets, although some communities are more aggressive than others. Birmingham in suburban Detroit turns unpaid tickets over to a collection agency.

The Ambassador Bridge / Jim Wallace

DETROIT (AP) - A judge has ordered the company that controls the Ambassador Bridge to surrender control of its portion of a project on the U.S. side of the international crossing to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Thursday that an account be set up to fund the work.

A next court hearing is March 22.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. has said it's making progress on its share of the $230 million Gateway Project and pledged to complete the work.

In January, Edwards put 84-year-old billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top executive, Dan Stamper, in jail for contempt of court for failing to follow orders on the project, which includes connecting the bridge with Canada to area interstates.

They were released by the Michigan appeals court.

Flickr user poka0059

Organizers of a new campaign want to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving. The project is called "Remembering Ally: Distracted Driving Awareness Campaign." It was named in honor of Ally Zimmerman. She was sixteen when she was killed by a distracted driver.

Jim Santilli is executive director of the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan. He says one simple mistake made by a distracted driver can change the lives of many people.

On Tuesday TIA will hold a conference at Zimmerman’s former high school in Romeo. The speakers will include members of her family as well as government and safety officials. A new, graphic video that details what happens in a car crash will also be shown.

The campaign is geared toward teens and young adults, but Santilli says older adults are also guilty of distracted driving.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit's problematic public transportation system is getting a new leader.

The office of Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement Tuesday night that Ron Freeland would serve as the Detroit Department of Transportation's CEO. Freeland has worked as an executive with other transportation systems in the U.S.

Word of the appointment comes as Detroit considers ending early-morning bus service as part of an effort to cut about $11 million in costs. The city says some other bus routes could be eliminated. Public hearings on the proposal are planned.

The mayor on Wednesday also planned to show off new city buses at an event on the city's east side. The mayor's office says the new, more fuel-efficient buses are part of the city's newest fleet that began arriving Jan. 30.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he's recommending $14.7 million in federal aid to build a 9.6-mile bus rapid transit line in Grand Rapids.

LaHood said in a statement Tuesday that the line will offer fast and efficient access to the western Michigan city's central business district and relieve congestion.

LaHood says the project is part of President Barack Obama's budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The budget sent to Congress on Monday includes $2.2 billion in funding for 29 major rail and bus
rapid transit projects in 15 states.

LaHood says the budget would fund the Grand Rapids Interurban Transit partnership for a new Silver Line BRT system. It would run along Division Avenue from the Grand Rapids central business
district to 60th Street at Division Avenue.

user orinzebest / Flickr

Voters may soon decide whether Michigan should scrap the 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gas at the pump in favor of a sales tax increase of 1 percent.

The change would help generate more money for transportation funding.

A proposal to put the question to voters is gaining momentum with some legislative leaders.

That change would require a constitutional amendment and put the question to voters on the ballot.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the measure. He said if taxpayers are asked to pay more to fix the state’s roads, they should have a voice.

user amtrak_russ / Flickr

Maximum train speeds on Amtrak's Wolverine and Blue Water lines can increase to 110 m.p.h. on an 80 mile stretch of track between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

Amtrak and MDOT officials say the higher speed is the fastest allowed outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak's Acela Express train, which travels between Boston and Washington D.C., can reach speeds up to 150 m.p.h.

Approval was given after successful testing of a "positive train control safety system" installed on the tracks.

From an Amtrak and MDOT press release:

Potholes
Peter Ito / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is looking for more money to support transportation costs in Michigan. That includes more than $1 billion to fix roads and bridges.

We talk to Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

 

Most people remember Upton Sinclair, the crusading twentieth century writer, as the author of the novel, The Jungle, which exposed conditions in the food packing industry in Chicago. If you haven’t read it, it’s enough to make a butcher become a vegan for a week.

Benny Mazur / Flickr

Six unpaid tickets triggers sanctions at the Secretary of State's office.

Now that might change to three. From the Associated Press:

The state Legislature has approved a bill that would make it tougher and more expensive for motorists who pile up unpaid parking tickets to get their driver's licenses renewed.

The Senate passed a bill by a 27-11 vote Tuesday that would lower the number of unpaid tickets needed to prompt sanctions from the Secretary of State's office. The bill already has passed the House so it's on the way to Gov. Rick Snyder.

Motorists now are blocked from getting or renewing their driver's licenses if they have six or more unresolved parking violations. That number would drop to three unpaid parking tickets under the bill.

The AP reports in 2018, the law would expire and go back to six unpaid tickets needed for sanctions.

Riding the Rails

Jan 30, 2012

I have been traveling by air for most of my adult life, and for a few years, flew somewhere at least once a week.

Yet while I took trains in Europe and Japan, it never occurred to me to do so from Detroit. Amtrak, people said, took forever and was a fairly nasty experience; a shabby relic of transportation’s past.

However, air travel has become less and less fun, from the increasingly cramped seats and loss of anything resembling service, and more and more intrusive security procedures.

Fixing the roads

Jan 23, 2012

To say that Governor Rick Snyder isn’t popular these days with Democrats,  liberals and even some independent voters would probably be an understatement. Many were upset by his decisions to cut education spending in order to drastically lower business taxes. Others weren’t happy that the state is now taxing pensions.

And there was widespread unhappiness when Snyder signed a bill that prevents state and local governments from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees. Polls indicate that some who voted for him fourteen months ago wouldn’t do so today.

Flickr user fellowship of the rich

A package of bills soon to be introduced in the Michigan Legislature is expected to propose higher vehicle registration fees and tax changes to raise more money for road repairs. The bipartisan bills will have support from Republican Governor Rick Snyder. He says Michigan is under-investing in its roads to the tune of $1.4 billion a year.
    

Snyder says it would make more financial sense to start addressing the problem now. The repair bill will be even worse the longer Michigan waits to address the problem.
    

There’s a sense of gloom throughout the mass transit community in Michigan today. Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he was canceling the long-talked about light rail line to be built up Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

They’ve been discussing light rail in the Woodward corridor for more than forty years. Few remember now, but Detroit’s much ridiculed People Mover was originally intended as the embryo of such a system, to which it would later be connected. Recently, light rail was thought to be only a matter of time.

Michael Kumm / Flickr

The group that runs the People Mover (Detroit's downtown light-rail system)  announced today that it has secured enough funding to operate the system though June 2013.

Officials from the Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC) say they "have a special reason to give thanks this season" because they've made up for a $3.4 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. The system will also get $6.2 million for following fiscal year.

The money is coming from an escrow account set up in 1989 for maintenance of the People Mover’s guideway system. Officials say the guideway structure is "sound and has been maintained in good condition."

The Detroit News reports the system has seen cuts from city government and the state:

The City Council cut the People Mover's annual subsidy in July by almost a quarter to $3.4 million. That triggered the state of Michigan to reduce its $3.6 million matching subsidy to $1 million — a big blow to the system's $15 million budget...

Officials increased the People Mover's fares to 75 cents from 50 cents last month — the first bump in the system's 24-year history. But the system has never come close to its break-even point, which would require 10 times more annual ridership.

The News reports that fares from 2.3 million riders in 2010 generated $900,000.

M1 Rail

The on-again-off-again light rail plan in Detroit is now officially "off," according to the Detroit Free Press.

A light-rail system was planned between downtown Detroit and 8 Mile Rd.

The paper reports the $25 million pledged to the project from a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant will go toward a bus system instead.

From the Free Press:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Detroit Mayor Dave Bing that doubts that Detroit could pay operating costs over the long term for the light-rail line because of its and the state’s financial problems swayed him against the plan. The decision came despite earlier public support that included LaHood’s 2010 visit to Detroit to award a $25-million grant to get the project moving.

LaHood, President Barack Obama’s top transportation official, met last week with Bing and Snyder, and the sides agreed that the better option is a system of rapid-transit buses operating in dedicated lanes on routes from downtown to and through the suburbs along Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan avenues and along M-59, the officials said.

Private and philanthropic investors had pledged $100 million toward the light rail project. Though some investors had shown signs of wavering.

The Free Press reports the decision to scrap the light-rail plan "outraged Megan Owens, director of the Detroit advocacy group Transportation Riders United." Advocates said the investments made in light-rail line would lead to redevelopment along Woodward Avenue:

 “We’re basically throwing away a $3-billion economic development investment,” Owens said. “I’m outraged Mayor Bing would let this happen on his watch.”

Critics of the project said the light-rail project would be a waste of money and could suffer the same fate as the People Mover in Detroit. That system has been struggling to remain economically viable.

According to a press release from the office of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the federal Department of Transportation has granted $3.6 million to the St. Clair County Road Commission for repairs on a section of Smiths Creek Road. Work will take place on a 2.6 mile stretch of the road and will include replacement of a bridge spanning the Pine River.

From the press release:

Priestmangoode

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in Michigan for high speed higher speed rail.

For that, we'll get trains that can travel 110 m.p.h. for much of the Detroit to Chicago trip.

A modest boost in speed is about as much as we can ask for given the state of our infrastructure (over the summer, some passenger trains in Michigan were ordered to travel at 25 m.p.h. because of the sorry state of the tracks).

One drawback to train travel is the number of stops along the way. Detroit to Chicago has stops in Dowagiac, Niles, and New Buffalo, Michigan.

What if the train could just slow down around those stops?

Behold the "Moving Platforms" concept from Paul Priestman of the English design group Priestmangoode (bob head while watching):

O.k. - this pie-in-the-sky idea has been around for awhile. New Scientist magazine writes that they first featured an article about a similar idea in 1969.

Priestman told CNN that its valuable to throw off the chains and think big:

While Priestman admits that it will be some time before his vision could be implemented, he says the time has come to rethink how we travel.

"This idea is a far-future thought but wouldn't it be brilliant to just re-evaluate and just re-think the whole process?" he says.

But why not dream big?

Meet George Jetson while you think about it:

annarborbridges.com

Demolition of two crumbling bridges near Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor will start November 28th, according to the city of Ann Arbor.

The Stadium Boulevard bridges were built in 1928 and they span South State Street and the Ann Arbor Railroad. The bridges have been in need of repair or replacement for some time and are considered "functionally obsolete."

The city of Ann Arbor was hoping federal transportation funds would come through to help rebuild the bridges. After missing out on one round, federal funding eventually did come through.

A $13.9 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation's "Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery" (TIGER) program will help pay for part of the project. The remainder of the funding will come from the state of Michigan ($300,000), and the city of Ann Arbor ($6,600,000).

Draft Michigan Rail Plan / MDOT

This was an interesting graph I came across in MDOT's draft report, Michigan State Rail Plan.

The miles of railroad we have in the state today, match what we had back in 1880.

The state went from a peak of 9,059 miles in 1909, to 3,900 miles today - a decline of almost 60%.

It makes sense.

The internal combustion engine began competing with rail at the turn of the last century. Trucks and cars began moving more freight and people.

MDOT

Most of the upgrades are happening along the Detroit to Chicago route. That's because this line was designated as a high speed rail corridor by the federal government back in 1992.

With that designation comes federal grant dollars.

And recently, it has meant hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and federal transportation officials will speak today at a conference in Lansing on improving rail service in Michigan.

Michigan has 540 miles of publicly owned rail.

The governor has called for improving and expanding that system to move people and cargo more quickly and efficiently. He said he will seek more federal dollars and wants part of vehicle registration fees to be used for improving mass transit. 

“He believes very strongly that infrastructure is very important both to Michigan’s economy and to the future and that rail is very important to that mix, both passenger and freight," said Sara Wurfel, the governor's press secretary.

The state recently won a federal grant to purchase and upgrade 140 miles of track to be part of accelerated rail service between Detroit and Chicago. The governor’s plans for the state include making Michigan a central point in a regional business corridor that runs from Chicago to Toronto.

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