transportation

Transportation
2:47 pm
Fri August 19, 2011

Feds to invest more than $28 million in new Dearborn train station

A map showing current High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program investments.
Federal Railroad Administration

The Federal Railroad Administration has obligated $28,204,450 to the Michigan Department of Transportation to build a new Dearborn train station.

U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-Dearborn) made the announcement in a press release today:

This funding will allow the City of Dearborn to consolidate its two passenger rail stations into a intermodal station in the west section of downtown Dearborn... The intermodal facility will be designed for the planned Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail as well as future high-speed intercity passenger rail service.  The station will accommodate city, regional and intercity bus systems; local and tourist shuttles; bicycle and greenway linkages; and, auto, taxi, and limousine connections to Detroit International Airport.

In the release, Dingell said "modernizing rail travel will help attract small business development, increase job growth, and enhance the livelihood of communities and business, by helping to expedite the time and efficiency of people and goods getting from point A to point B."

Last May, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced an investment of $196.5 million to improve track and signal systems between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

The improvements, the federal government said, would reduce trip times between Detroit and Chicago by 30 minutes.

The Federal Railroad Administration selected the Dearborn rail station to be funded under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program.

In total, the government plans to spend $10.1 billion of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to improve passenger rail service in the U.S.

The Dearborn Press & Guide reports the announcement puts an end to questions about whether the money would come or not:

[The money] was awarded more than two years ago as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Although the money was awarded, until this week it still had not been obligated and Congressional Republicans are proposing to rescind all non-obligated ARRA funds as part of the upcoming federal budget process.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly was quoted as saying he was relieved by the news, "I was panicked that our shovel-ready project would never come to fruition. This really is key for Dearborn, as we'll now be central to any future transportation planning for the region."

Transportation
3:59 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

TSA to test faster security screening program at Detroit Metro Airport

Everyone won't be able to participate in the TSA's pilot program. Want faster security screening times? Don't be messy. A message from your friendly TSA agent.
TSA.gov

I posted information from the AP earlier about the TSA's plans to test a program that will improve screening times at airports. (Welcome news to many who abhor waiting in lines at airports.)

Twitter follower Justin Fenwick wrote us saying "Wish I knew what info. they want..."

Good point, Justin!

The Associated Press reports that currently, the TSA has three bits of information on all passengers:

  1. Your full name,
  2. Date of birth,
  3. and Gender

This new program will gather up information from frequent-flier programs:

Frequent-flier programs include more than those three identification fields. For instance, personal information provided in Delta's frequent-flier program includes the traveler's home address, email address or phone number, and preferred language.

TSA officials would not say what screening measures could be avoided for security reasons.

In a press release, TSA officials say the pilot program is expected to start this fall.

During the first phase of testing, certain frequent fliers and certain members of CBP's (Customs and Border Protection) Trusted Traveler programs, including members of Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS, who are U.S. citizens will be eligible to participate in this pilot, which could qualify them for expedited screening at select checkpoints at certain airports.

They expect around 5,000 to 8,000 passengers to participate in the initial program.

At Detroit Metropolitan airport, officials say certain frequent fliers from Delta Air Lines and certain members of CBP’s Trusted Traveler programs who are U.S. citizens and who are also flying on Delta will be eligible to participate in the pilot.

Officials say they plan to expand the pilot program to other airlines "once operationally ready."

Transportation
2:01 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

Faster security checks at airports in exchange for more information

A new TSA program is aimed at speeding up screenings in exchange for more personal information.
Michael Eyal Sharon Flickr

A new program aimed at speeding up airport screenings will be tested in Detroit.

From the Associated Press:

The Transportation Security Administration plans to test a program that would pre-screen certain travelers who volunteer more personal information so they can be vetted to potentially receive expedited screening at the checkpoint.

This is the Obama administration's first stab at a more risk-based, intelligence-driven passenger screening program that could begin to answer traveler complaints that the government is not using common sense when it screens all passengers at airports in the same way.

The program will initially be tested at airports in Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Dallas, among certain Delta and American travelers who are U.S. citizens and are enrolled in the airlines' frequent flier programs, as well as among Delta and American travelers who participate in some other government trusted traveler programs and who also travel through those four airports.

Politics
12:12 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

Another delay for Detroit's light rail plans?

An artists rendition of the "Foxtown/Stadium" stop for the proposed light rail project in Detroit.
screen grab from YouTube video

This past Monday, Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported on the growing controversy surrounding Detroit's light rail project. Reports indicated that private backers might pull out of the project. (Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson told Cwiek  the foundation is committed to the project.)

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Changing Gears
10:27 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Great Lakes harbors threatened by dredging backlog

The Great Lakes form a sprawling ecosystem of nature and industry.  In a strong economy, ships can transport up to 200 million tons of cargo across these waters each year.  But now the shipping industry has declared a state of emergency.  The cause is a region-wide dredging backlog.  Shippers worry sediment buildup threatens to choke some navigation channels.

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Economy
9:21 am
Mon June 27, 2011

AAA Mich.: Gas prices down 16 cents in past week

A Suncor Energy refinery in Sarnia, Ontario. Problems with refineries are partly to blame for the recent spike in gas prices. AAA Michigan says prices are dropping again.
Suncor Energy

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are down 16 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.56.

The auto club says Monday the statewide average is about 71 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. But the price has fallen 56 cents in three weeks.

Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve unleaded fuel is in the Lansing area, where it's $3.41 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Ann Arbor and Marquette areas at $3.62.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

Auto/Economy
3:18 pm
Sat June 18, 2011

Half-off amnesty offered for unpaid parking fines

Flickr/Chris Moncus

People who have unpaid parking tickets in Detroit will be able to take advantage of a special program and pay only half the amount of money they owe. The program is called "All or Nothing Amnesty" and starts Tuesday and ends July 1st.

It also applies to people already in payment plans over parking debt, but does not apply to people whose vehicles have been clamped with a boot.  

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Transportation
9:57 am
Tue June 14, 2011

A slow train to Chicago, Amtrak ordered to cut speeds

Amtrak traveling between Chicago and Detroit.
user amtrak_russ Flickr

On the heels of the federal government's announcement that it plans to increase the speed of Amtrak trains traveling between Detroit and Chicago, comes a slow-down order from the freight company that owns much of the track.

Norfolk Southern railroad says Amtrak trains will have to travel at speeds of 25 m.p.h. on some parts of the line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

More from Annarbor.com's Nathan Bomey:

The decision means that travelers on Amtrak's Wolverine line may experience 90-minute delays on the trip from Kalamazoo to Dearborn, Amtrak said. Passengers need to check with Amtrak before heading to the station for their trips.

A 90-minute delay is a big deal for trains working to improve their on-time performance, which has been notoriously bad in Michigan.

Amtrak Train number 351, for instance, travels between Chicago and Grand Rapids/Port Huron/Detroit - Pontiac. In the last twelve months, it's been on-time only 17.1% of the time.

Last month, officials from the federal government announced plans to invest $196.5 million to improve the 135 miles of rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The improvement, officials from the government say, will allow trains to reach speeds of 110 m.p.h., cutting 30 minutes off the time it will take to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

The freight company who owns the line, says they won't be responsible for maintenance on the improved track. Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, was quoted in Annarbor.com:

"If they want to make the Michigan line a passenger route with higher speeds than what freight trains run, then someone other than Norfolk Southern is going to have to pay for the increased maintenance costs," Husband said. "We have been trying to work out a solution to this for a very long time now. But in the meantime we're doing what needs to be done to be responsible to our customers and our shareholders."

So before the trains speed up, they'll have to slow down.

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Politics
4:38 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Riders and legislators work to repeal Michigan's motorcycle helmet law

A moped chopper. Helmet needed?
user spicybear Flickr

Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law is once again in the sights of advocates who say riders should be allowed to operate a bike without head protection.

Legislation approved today by the state Senate Transportation Committee would allow licensed operators to forgo a helmet if they are 21 years old and have had a motorcycle endorsement for two years; or they have passed a motorcycle safety course.

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Auto/Economy
1:54 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Ten high speed train and rail projects announced today

User seemidtn Flickr

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the investment of over $2 billion in high speed rail projects around the country.

But what are the actual projects?

The entire list is available at the Department of Transportation's website, which has the full press release.

But here are some highlights (including full descriptions from the press release on the two Michigan projects.

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:15 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Officials investigate fuel tank problem on F-150s

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking at Ford F-150s from the 1997 through 2001 model years. It's investigating a fuel tank problem that could affect more than 2.7 million pickup trucks.
user cogdogblog Flickr

The government is investigating the safety of some Ford F-150 trucks.

From the Associated Press:

U.S. safety regulators are investigating a fuel tank problem that could affect more than 2.7 million Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that the steel straps holding up the gas tank can rust and break, possibly causing a fuel spill and fire.

The agency says it is looking into trucks from the 1997 through 2001 model years. The F-150 is the top-selling vehicle in the U.S.

NHTSA says there are 243 reports of the tanks falling and causing two fires. No injuries have been reported.

The agency began looking at the problem last year when it had received 32 complaints.

Ford says it's cooperating with the investigation. Anyone with concerns should contact their dealer.

Transportation
11:02 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Details of higher speed rail project announced today

New funding for higher-speed rail in Michigan.
user amtrak_russ Flickr

Passenger rail in Michigan will get some upgrades because of a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Most of $199 million granted to the state will go toward improving the rail lines between Detroit and Chicago so passenger trains can travel faster.

The improvements are expected to allow trains to travel at top speeds of 110 m.p.h. rather than 95 m.p.h. The Department of Transportation says the improvements will cut 30 minutes off the time to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

Senators Levin and Stabenow put out a press release this morning with some of the details of the plan.

They say the track will be improved between Kalamazoo and Dearborn:

[the] rail project will rehabilitate track and signal systems to allow trains to travel at 110 mph for the 135-mile stretch. The current obsolete signal system will be replaced with a positive train control system, improving safety. The grant fully funds the state's request.

Levin and Stabenow say $2.8 million in Recovery Act funds will also be used to start the process of building a new train station in Ann Arbor:

The Ann Arbor Station's $2.8 million will be used to complete a preliminary engineering and environmental study required to design and construct a new high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor Station is the busiest Amtrak station in Michigan, but only has single-tracking capacity, forcing intercity trains to block the mainline while serving the station. By constructing a passing track, more than one train will be able to service the station while others can pass unimpeded.

The money being spent in Michigan is part of $2 billion in new spending on rail service across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation made the spending announcements today.

Rail passengers in Michigan will see new locomotives and passenger cars as a result of the spending. Seven higher-speed locomotives and 48 new passenger cars will run between Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is attending the press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scheduled for today at 2:30 today in Detroit. We'll hear more from her later.

Politics
1:01 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Michigan may get more federal money for high speed rail

The future of passenger rail service in Michigan may take a big leap forward today. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation will be in Detroit this afternoon for an announcement concerning “high speed rail." 

Michigan’s been down this track before. State transportation officials had high hopes last year when the Obama  administration planned to invest billions of dollars in developing  high speed rail projects across the country.  

State officials lobbied hard for the federal government to upgrade the  rail link between Detroit and Chicago, so trains could travel between the two cities at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. But, while the administration designated billions of dollars for projects in Illinois, California and Florida. Michigan only received a small amount of money to upgrade some Amtrak stations.  

But, Florida’s new governor decided his state didn’t want the two billion dollars the Obama administration was offering.  It appears Michigan and New York may end up splitting the money. We’ll find out  specifics later today. 

Florida’s not the first state to say “no” to federal high speed rail  money.  Wisconsin and Ohio also declined.  

Amtrak reported last month that ridership is rising on all three  passenger rail lines it operates in Michigan.

Transportation
3:47 pm
Fri May 6, 2011

Report: Major Michigan high speed rail announcement coming Monday

Amtrak's "Wolverine" pulls into the station in Ann Arbor. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to announce new investments in Michigan's rail system.
user smaedli Flickr

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to visit Detroit Monday to make a "major" high-speed rail announcement.

From the Detroit News:

Last month, Michigan applied for more than $560 million in funding - including joining three other states as part of a joint request. Michigan officials expect the state will receive funding for some grants sought.

The state sought track improvements in Detroit and a new transit terminal in Ann Arbor, and new trains are part of Michigan's pitch for more federal money for high-speed rail after Florida said it didn't want $2.4 billlion.

LaHood is expected to be joined by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other elected leaders at Detroit's Amtrak station Monday afternoon. LaHood is to make an appearance earlier in the day at New York's Penn Station. Bing's office declined to comment ahead of the announcement.

In the Midwest, there are several sections of rail being improved that will allow trains to travel faster. New money could further develop this system.

It's known as the "Chicago Hub Network" and includes improvements to the rail connections to St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Columbus. From the DOT's website:

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Auto/Economy
11:53 am
Wed May 4, 2011

Driving habits remain as gas prices break records

Commuting in Chicago. Gas prices are rising, but driving habits don't seem to be changing as drastically as they did in 2008.
Phillip Capper Flickr

Gas prices continue to climb in Michigan. They reached a new record today hitting an average of $4.26.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Gas prices continue to climb in Michigan, with the average cost per gallon of regular gasoline jumping to $4.26 today from $4.22 on Tuesday.

Previously, the record price had been set in summer 2008. Tuesday's price broke that record.

A year ago, the average price per gallon in the state was $2.94.

In 2008, when gas prices shot up, demand for gasoline dropped as Americans adjusted their driving habits.

Some experts say that's not likely to happen this time around as Americans are not as shocked by the high gas prices.

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Economy
12:59 pm
Sun May 1, 2011

Bus ridership is up in Michigan (but so are fuel prices)

"Get on the bus" that's a refrain heard more and more in Michigan as people are forced to find other ways to get around as gasoline prices move into record high territory.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It appears rising gasoline prices are getting more people to ride public transportation in Michigan.  But that’s a double edged sword for local bus systems.  

It will be a few months before all the numbers are in, but Clark Harder with the Michigan Public Transit Association says, demand for bus service is up.   He says more and more people are opting to take the bus, because it’s getting too expensive to fill up their own gas tank. 

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Transportation
4:07 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Bonds for Detroit light rail project approved by city council

An artist's depiction of the M1 light rail system.
M1 Rail

Detroit City Council has approved $125 million in bonds to help pay for a light rail system that will stretch from downtown Detroit to the New Center.

The total cost of the project is expected to be $528 million, according to Bill Shea at Detroit Crain's Business.

Council also approved a $25 million TIGER grant from the federal government (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery).

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Auto/Economy
1:54 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

What effect will rising gas prices have on Michiganders?

Robert Couse-Baker Flickr

If you seek rising gas prices, look about you.

Gas prices in Michigan have ticked up over the course of this past week, an increase of 11 cents, bringing the statewide average up to $3.86.

But what will the effect on Michigan drivers be?

Mantill Williams, a spokesperson for the American Public Transportation Authority, says there is a tipping point at which people begin to consider changing their driving habits.

From ABC News:

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Infrastructure
3:01 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Update: Michigan Department of Transportation director responds to bad bridge rankings

Michigan's Mackinac Bridge
Julie Falk Flickr

Update:

Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation for bridge condition according to a new report released on national bridge conditions. The report says 1,400 bridges in Michigan are in critical condition and are deteriorating in some way.

Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says most bridges in Michigan are about 40 years old, and bridges are built to last 50 years.

“We take a slightly different approach with that 50 years, and say that with the right kind of maintenance and preventative maintenance, we can extend that life indefinitely.”

“Well, indefinitely to a point where there’s really nothing more financially responsible to do other than replace the bridge.”

“Our first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that the infrastructure that people are driving on, the bridges they’re driving on, are safe.”

“And if there is a condition that warrants it as immediately unsafe, the bridge will be closed immediately.”

“The bridges that are out there, that people are driving on right now, including all of us, are safe. If the bridge is open, the bridge is safe.”

“It’s been inspected by our bridge engineers, and we take that very seriously and if there’s something that needs to be taken out of service, it will be taken out of service immediately and fixed and adjusted.”

Representatives from Transportation for America, who released the study, say federal support is needed to fix a backlog of bridge issues. They say it will cost about 226 dollars per driver to make sure bridges remain safe and drivable.

Steudle and representatives from Transportation for America say they understand that there is a focus right now on less government spending. But, they say, safety needs to be a priority over budget cuts.

-Laura Weber

1:01 p.m.:

How many bridges do you cross in a day?

However many you cross, it is possible that some of those bridges might be part of the 13% of state bridges that are "structurally deficient."

In a survey of national statistics, the Associated Press found that Michigan came in with the 13th worst bridge statistics.

From the Detroit Free Press:

More than 13% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, a number that will only rise as thousands of spans statewide approach their expected 50-year life expectancy, transportation leaders said today.

With about 1,400 bridges ranked structurally deficient, Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation in the number of bridges in poor condition, according to a report released this morning by Transportation for America, a national transportation advocacy group. The national average is 11.5%.

The average age of Michigan’s bridges is 41 years. The group said nationwide, it would cost $70 billion to upgrade deficient bridges. About 185,000 U.S. bridges are 50 or older, and that number could double by the year 2030.

This news comes on the heels of another big announcement about the long-awaited new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

From an MLive article from last Tuesday:

Governor Rick Snyder is expected, in the next two weeks, to submit a new bill to the Michigan legislature authorizing construction of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Lansing.

One of the most significant changes between Snyder’s NITC proposal and the DRIC bill that died in the state Senate last year is the removal of MDOT from the process.  A special authority established to govern the bridge replaces the state agency in the legislation. According to Crain’s Detroit’s Bill Shea, shifting control away from MDOT is seen as an effort to win support among GOP lawmakers.

The removal of MDOT from the equation is one of the significant changes between the NITC proposal and Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bill that stalled in the Michigan Senate in 2010.

Of course, what we really need is some kind of Michigan Acronym Awareness Association (MAAA).

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Auto
10:48 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Founder of Automobile Magazine Dies

David E. Davis, Jr., founder of Automobile Magazine
Automobile Magazine

The founder and original editor of Automobile Magazine has died. The magazine says the man who was once called "the dean of automotive journalism" died in Ann Arbor, Michigan after complications from bladder cancer surgery.

This from Automobile Magazine Deputy Editor Joe DeMatio:

Davis founded Ann Arbor-based Automobile Magazine with Rupert Murdoch’s backing in 1985 after leaving his second stint in the editor’s chair at Car and Driver, which he moved from New York City to Ann Arbor in 1977.

Davis, who had already refashioned Car and Driver into one of the most literate and entertaining special-interest magazines in America, imagined Automobile Magazine as a celebration of the automotive good life with the rallying cry “No Boring Cars,” but the slogan could just as easily have been applied to everything else in his life:

No boring stories.

No boring meetings.

No boring road trips.

No boring wardrobes.

No boring friends.

No boring employees.

No boring food.

No boring parties.

When he was stuck with boring bosses, he suffered them most reluctantly, and in fact it was his disgust with the management team at CBS, which bought Car and Driver from Ziff-Davis Publishing in the mid-1980s, that propelled him to quit what he had considered the best job in the world, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver.

DeMatio writes that "Davis is survived by his wife, Jeannie, a.k.a. J.L.K., a.k.a. 'the woman who changed my life,' his sons Matthew (himself a well-known automotive journalist) and David III, his daughter, Peg, and his stepdaughter Eleanor, and stepsons Vincent and Tony Kuhn."

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