After spending a good portion of the year holding 16 public forums around the state on the issue of passenger rail service in Michigan, the Michigan By Rail group wrapped up its last meeting Thursday night in Ann Arbor. With over 100 people participating, including numerous state and local elected officials, organizers presented attendees with an opportunity to create their own vision for what passenger rail service in Michigan should look like. Interest in rail service was wide-ranging, with discussion taking place on existing Amtrak service, plans for expansion, questions on the status of Ann Arbor to Detroit and the WALLY line commuter service, and the state’s federal award of $161 million for high speed rail improvements along the Detroit to Chicago route. Mayors John Hieftje of Ann Arbor and Paul Schrieber of Ypsilanti brought up the critical message of economic development and job creation that needs to be delivered to the Legislature as they consider future investments in passenger rail and attempt to procure the necessary matching funds to draw down the federal high speed rail grant.
It was a great event and built upon the momentum from the previous forums, that there is broad support for passenger rail service among Michigan’s residents. The new year should bring many opportunities to take the feedback from these forums to the Governor, MDOT and the Legislature and work with state leaders to establish a plan for implementing this vision.
Chris Hackbarth handles transportation issues for the Michigan Municipal League. Chris can be reached at 517-908-0303 and by email at email@example.com.