Cynical Synapse

Sat, 30 Jan 2010

Transportation in Michigan Kicked to the Curb

Filed under: Budget, Driving, Economy, Government, Life, Michigan, Politics, Railroads, Stimulus — cynicalsynapse @ 7:28 pm

Kicked to the curb

This has not been a good week for transportation in Michigan. Between the feds and the state, Michigan has lost a lot of traction on improving transportation. First, the US Department of Transportation only gave $40 million to Michigan, far less than the requested $993 million. Then the Michigan Transportation Commssion cut 243 road projects because the state doesn’t have the matching funds to get Federal money.

On the high speed rail initiative, Gov. Granholm (D) had signed an 8-state cooperation agreement to support the Midwest High Speed Rail Corridor, with Obama’s home town of Chicago as the hub. Granholm claimed the Stimulus money for high speed rail would create 7,000 permanent jobs and hundreds of temporary ones. How did she figure that? Whether trains from Detroit to Chicago go 79 mph or 110 mph, unless you add additional trips, there’s no change in permanent jobs. And even if you add another round trip trainset, how many jobs is that? 20? 50? Certainly not 7,000. I don’t understand.

High speed rail grants

But Granholm’s guesses on new jobs is all mute anyway. Obama’s Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a Michigan’s share in high speed rail is a paltry $40 million. That money’s going to pay for new Amtrak stations in Troy and Dearborn, as well as renovations to the Battle Creek station. It’s far less than Michigan’s requested $993 million and hardly shows up on the radar screen in the overall $8 billion Stimulus bill high speed rail program. The only good news here? Illinois and Indiana got $204 million to upgrade the Detroit-Chicago corridor.

I’ve ridden the Detroit-Chicago (actually Pontiac-Chicago) line several times. I can verify the Indiana segment is a real problem with conflicts between freight and passenger rail, despite this being the great “Broadway”, an area of great competition between the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads. But no track upgrades in Michigan, which is the bulk of the run, means no real high speed for this corridor any time soon. Once again, Michigan loses out.

Bad roads

Besides the bad news in high-speed rail, which also affects efforts on starting commuter rail in southeast Michigan, Michigan’s highways also got dissed this week. Since the Governor and State Senate and Representatives decided to apply Stimulus money to the general fund, there’s none left for road projects. Rather than admit this and do the right thing, many are claiming the gas tax isn’t adequate to meet Michigan’s needs. Thus, they’re calling for tax increases. The net effect of canceling the 243 road projects is the loss of hundreds of millions of Federal funds. Penny-wise and dollar foolish.

I won’t argue about whether roads are adequately funded or not, but I will tell you there’s no need to increase the gas tax. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Many use the current economic climate to argue for more taxes, but Michigan’s tax system is faring very well compared to most others. As a result, the imbalance must be on the spending side of the equation, since no once questions the state has a definite problem with income and expenses. While there are certain government services I expect to receive as part of my taxes, I expect them to be provided efficiently and prioritized over non-essential services, such as legislative staffs or state bureaucracy. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing interest in raising gas taxes to pay for roads when the real issue is deciding on priorities for spending. Michigan is not revenue deficient; rather, it’s over spending.

Politicians usually like to slash public safety for their desired effect, but this week transportation is on the chopping block. Has anyone figured out slow trains and lousy roads will negatively impact trade in and through Michigan?


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