transportation

Commentary
11:23 am
Thu December 15, 2011

High-speed buses, instead of light rail, make sense for Detroit

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.

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Transportation
11:48 am
Wed December 14, 2011

People Mover in Detroit will keep moving through June 2013

The People Mover in Detroit has come up with funds to remain open through June 2013.
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.

Transportation
10:19 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Report: Light rail plan in Detroit has been scrapped in favor of a bus system

An artist's depiction of the M1 light rail system. The Detroit Free Press reports the plan has been scrapped.
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.

Politics
2:07 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

$3.6 million in federal funds to fix Michigan road

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:

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Offbeat
4:44 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Forget "high speed" trains, how about "mothership" trains?

The concept: A moving platform docks with a high speed train.
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:

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Transportation
3:30 pm
Mon November 21, 2011

Ann Arbor bridge project near Michigan Stadium set to begin next week

In Ann Arbor, the bridges along East Stadium Boulevard will soon be replaced.
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).

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Transportation
11:26 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Does it make sense to invest more in Michigan's rail system?

The miles of railroad track in Michigan today matches the miles of track we had back in 1880.
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.

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Transportation
3:57 pm
Mon October 31, 2011

Detroit to Chicago in less than 4 hours? 3 upgrades for Michigan passenger rail

The 135 miles of rail line from Dearborn to Kalamazoo will be owned by the state of Michigan. The state is purchasing the line from Norfolk Southern Railway with the help of federal stimulus money. Once completed, the upgraded line will increase speeds.
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.

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Transportation
6:37 am
Mon October 31, 2011

Snyder, federal officials to address rail summit

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.

Transportation
6:01 pm
Wed October 26, 2011

Snyder says he'll continue to push for international bridge

Owners of the Ambassador Bridge have been spending millions of dollars fighting a proposed second bridge connecting Detroit and Canada.
Mike Russell wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder said the state needs to invest more money in its roads and bridges, and he said he’ll continue to push for a new, publicly owned bridge linking Detroit and Canada.

Snyder made the remarks in a special message to the Legislature today.

He said a new international bridge will help create jobs and more markets for Michigan products.

“We’ve had some setbacks, but again, following my philosophy of relentless positive action we are going to stay relentless because I believe it’s in the best interest of all our citizens… You couldn’t find a better partner in the world than to partner with our neighbors in Canada and build a bridge,” said Snyder.

Governor Snyder wants lawmakers to find nearly $1.5 billion in additional revenue to help pay for road and bridge repairs and maintenance.  He says one way to fund that would be to eliminate the 15-cent fuel tax at the pump in exchange for a wholesale gasoline tax.

Economy
4:31 pm
Wed October 26, 2011

Governor Snyder wants more investment in Michigan's infrastructure

Governor Snyder said that every dollar invested in Michigan roads and bridges saves six dollars in the future.
user nirbhao Flickr

In a speech today directed toward the Michigan Legislature, Governor Snyder expressed his desire to improve just about every bit of infrastructure in the state.

Roads, bridges, airports, ports, rail, water lines, sewage pipes, and broadband Internet connectivity - it was all on the table, and the Michigan Governor said the state's infrastructure was suffering from a lack of investment.

The Governor said the state's economic recovery is tied to investing in all these bits of infrastructure, and that there is "no time to waste."

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Political Roundup
11:01 am
Wed October 26, 2011

The Week in State Politics

State Capitol, Lansing, MI
aflyingpsychofly Flickr

Governor Snyder is set to deliver an address this afternoon in Southfield about how he plans to improve infrastructure and transportation in the state. Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark spoke with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry this morning about what we should expect to hear from Governor Snyder.

News Roundup
9:36 am
Wed October 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Detroit school cited for overcrowding

Last week, the Detroit News reported on overcrowding in DPS classrooms. They reported on 55 kindergartners in a class at Nolan Elementary School, and that a science course in a DPS high school had 72 students. Now there's news of one school being cited by the city's fire department.

From the Detroit News:

A Detroit public school was cited Tuesday by the Detroit Fire Marshal's Office for overcrowding after a parent complained to fire officials that too many children were in her son's kindergarten class.

Lt. Gerod Funderburg of the Detroit Fire Department said the fire marshal's office issued a citation at Nolan Elementary School, 1150 Lantz.

"They went out today and issued a ticket for overcrowding," Funderburg said.

Detroit home prices on the rebound?

Home prices have been sliding in Detroit prior to the Great Recession, but there are some good signs in Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Low inventories of homes on the market and increased demand have hoisted metro Detroit home prices by 6.1% since the beginning of the year, according to research by IHS Global Insight.

So are home prices finally on the rebound after five years in decline -- or is this a temporary lull before another big drop during the fall?

Most industry experts don't expect a huge drop, but IHS has forecast another 5% to 10% home price decline nationwide before recovery begins.

An analyst told the Free Press that because Detroit entered the housing slump before the rest of the country, it might recover ahead of the rest of the country as well - especially as the region adds more jobs.

Smashed pumpkins on the morning commute

From the Associated Press:

It was no treat driving on a Detroit-area freeway after a truck dumped a load of pumpkins during the morning commute.

Hundreds of pumpkins were scattered Wednesday across several lanes of traffic on eastbound Interstate 696 in Farmington Hills.

Many of the pumpkins were pulverized as drivers passed through. Video from a traffic camera showed motorists slowly making their way through the pre-Halloween mess.

WWJ-AM reports snow plows later were used to clear what remained of the pumpkins from the roadway.

Michigan State Police Sgt. James Kemp tells the Detroit Free Press that one motorist had a smashed  windshield, but no injuries were reported.

Kemp says police stopped the truck and the driver could be cited for having an unstable load.

Politics
11:41 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

Bridge proposal dies in Michigan legislature, Snyder considers other options

Owners of the Ambassador Bridge have been spending millions of dollars fighting a proposal to build a second international bridge downriver.
Thomas Hawk Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is looking how it might move forward construction of a new international bridge connecting Detroit and Canada without the approval of the Legislature.

A measure necessary to project died today (Thursday) in a state Senate committee, and Republican leaders say it appears the bridge project cannot win legislative approval.

But the new Detroit bridge remains central to Snyder’s long-term plans to make Michigan a Chicago-to-Montreal transportation corridor. Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s spokeswoman. She said the administration is considering its options.

"We have to look at it all, and we will look at it all very closely now because –very disappointed about today. It’s too important to jobs, it’s too important for Michigan. It’s too important to really say goodbye to this kind of money that we can leverage to all parts of our state to fix roads, to fix bridges, and to move forward," said Lasher.

The bridge was also going to be used to leverage millions of dollars in federal road and bridge money for projects across the state.

Lasher says there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the project.

An independent watchdog group called ads being aired statewide by bridge opponents “flagrantly” false.

Transportation
1:22 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Details of the $46.7 million in federal transit money coming to Michigan

Detroit's Department of Transportation will get $6 million to replace buses.
Matt Picio Flickr

We reported last week about the federal money coming to the state, and Sarah Hulett reported on more details released yesterday.

In case you missed it, here's how the $46.7 million from Federal Transit Administration’s Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair grant program is broken up in Michigan:

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Transportation
2:50 pm
Sun October 9, 2011

16-mile bike lane project connects neighborhoods

A bike lane in the "Big Apple."
user K_Gradinger Flickr

A series of bicycle lanes stretching 16 miles and connecting three neighborhoods in southwest Detroit has been completed. The Greenlink is part of the city's urban master plan for non-motorized transportation and allows bike riders safe access to the three historic neighborhoods.
    

A $500,000 Michigan Department of Transportation grant funded 80 percent of the project. Other grants and fundraisers paid for the other 20 percent.
    

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Allegan County
10:43 am
Fri September 23, 2011

Small plane clips a FedEx truck, crashes and kills pilot

The plane crash occurred near the Plainwell Municipal Airport about 16 miles north of Kalamazoo.
Google Maps

A small plane crashed in Allegan County this morning.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that construction workers working on a bridge over U.S. 131 saw the plane approaching the Plainwell Municipal Airport and noticed that it was too low.

The plane clipped the back of a FedEx semi traveling on U.S. 131 before crashing. Chuck Wiersma was one of the construction crew members:

"We said, 'He's not going to make it," Wiersma said. "And he didn't make it."

The plane clipped the truck's trailer and crashed. Paul Brindley, who runs the airport, said the pilot was killed. Police said the truck driver was not hurt.

After the plane crashed, Wiersma said he drove onto northbound U.S. 131 and attempted to stop traffic. He also went to the crash site to see if he could help.

Asked what he saw, Wiersma said, "It was a mess."

At around 9 a.m. this morning, WZZM reported that a stretch of U.S. 131 was closed:

Allegan County Sheriff's Deputies have closed the northbound side of the highway, from M-89 to M-222. It is unclear how long U.S. 131 will remain closed. Drivers are advised to avoid the area.

transportation
3:05 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Lawmakers expect changes to how Michigan pays to fix roads

A 2-mile section of I-196 was widened and reconstructed in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids in 2010. The project cost $40 million and closed the freeway for seven months.
Ifmuth Creative Commons

A new study shows the conditions of Michigan’s roads will continue to decline unless the state can come up with a lot more money to maintain them. More than a third of Michigan’s roads are in poor condition.

The study was released this week by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers. It shows the state needs $1.4 billion more each year for at least 85-percent of roadways to be in good or fair condition.

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Politics
10:42 am
Mon September 19, 2011

Michigan roads need billions more to remain "useable"

A bipartisan legislative workgroup has determined that keeping Michigan's roads useable will require an additional $1.4 billion a year.

In 10 years, that number grows to an estimated $2.6 billion.

Business and infrastructure groups have been pressuring the Michigan Legislature for years without success to come up with a way to raise more money for fixing and maintaining roads and bridges.

Representative Rick Olson says Michigan needs to more than double what it spends to maintain streets and highways:

“Well I think the bottom line of this study is, unless we spend this kind of money we’re either going to need to reconcile ourselves to poorer roads, or we’re going to need to be willing to pay even more in the future.”

 Olson says raising the gas tax would not go far enough in raising revenue to pay for roads. He says a larger and more permanent solution will need to be found to generate revenue. Olson and his Democratic counterpart have submitted their report to state House leadership.

 

Transportation
3:06 pm
Fri September 2, 2011

10 slow Amtrak trains in Michigan

Most of the track that Amtrak trains run on in Michigan are owned by freight companies.
Amtrak

There are three Amtrak routes with trains that travel to and from cities in Michigan to Chicago.

If you ride on any of them, chances are your train will be late.

The route with the best on-time rate in the last year were the trains traveling on the "Blue Water" route between Port Huron and Chicago. On average, you'll be on-time 50 percent of the time on these trains.

The "Pere Marquette" route with trains traveling between Grand Rapids and Chicago comes in second. On average, those trains run on-time 48 percent of the time.

The most popular route is the worst.

The "Wolverine" route, which has trains running between Pontiac/Detroit to Chicago, had an average on-time rate of just 14 percent.

Amtrak provides a detailed breakdown of each train's on-time performance along with reasons for delays on their website.

Here's a breakdown of the on-time percentages for Amtrak trains in Michigan from best-to-worst:

  1. Blue Water #364 - 73.8% (Chicago to Port Huron)
  2. Pere Marquette #370 - 54.2% (Chicago to Grand Rapids)
  3. Pere Marquette #371 - 41.7% (Grand Rapids to Chicago)
  4. Blue Water #365 - 25.5% (Port Huron to Chicago)
  5. Wolverine #350 - 19.8% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
  6. Wolverine #355 - 18.7% (Detroit/Pontiac to Chicago)
  7. Wolverine #353 - 17.6% (Detroit to Chicago/Pontiac)
  8. Wolverine #351 - 11.4% (Detroit/Pontiac to Chicago)
  9. Wolverine #354 - 9.5% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
  10. Wolverine #352 - 4.4% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
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