That “State up North” is cleaning the Buckeye State’s clock

Passengers board a train to Chicago at the Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

For Immediate Release
Sept. 30, 2011

Ken Prendergast
Executive Director
All Aboard Ohio
kenprendergast@allaboardohio.org
(216) 288-4883

Jack Shaner
Public Affairs Director
Ohio Environmental Council
jack@theOEC.org
(614) 466-1693

Why Michigan kept its $400 million for passenger trains when Ohio gave it back

This week, both houses of Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature strongly supported funding for improving intercity passenger rail service on Amtrak’s Wolverine Corridor. The Detroit to Chicago line serves 17 cities in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois with up to eight trains a day. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation into law yesterday, taking effect immediately.

The funding package of private, local, state and federal dollars amounted to $398.1 million (SOURCE: http://1.usa.gov/pvyK54). Of that, $360.4 million is federal, adding to a previous federal award to Michigan of $40.3 million, or $400.7 million in total federal investment.

The funding package will enable Michigan’s Department of Transportation to buy 136 miles of railroad from Norfolk Southern Corp. between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, and make infrastructure improvements to raise train speeds to 110 mph over 76 percent of the overall 304-mile route. The latest funding adds to the previous $40.3 million federal investment in Michigan, plus $32.9 million by Amtrak, and another $472.6 million in funding sponsored by Indiana and Illinois to bring the total Wolverine Corridor investment since 2009 to $943.8 million (SOURCE: http://1.usa.gov/n9pp7b).

“Thirty-three states in this country are undertaking passenger rail development of some kind” (SOURCE: http://tinyurl.com/3d28fux), said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “Our neighbors, including Pennsylvania, New York and our Canadian friends across the lake, are all developing 100+ mph trains. They aren’t doing this for nostalgia or because of a political philosophy. They are doing it to continue the most successful public-sector program ever invented – economic development.”

“While Michigan invests in more and faster trains, Ohio stands still,” said Jack Shaner, public affairs director at the Ohio Environmental Council. “Watch for Michigan to attract more young professionals and trackside development while Ohio idles on a silent siding.”

Why are Michigan, Indiana and Illinois investing in passenger rail, while Ohio, instead, chose to return $400 million in no-match federal funds for starting up train service the busiest travel corridor in the Buckeye State (Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati)?

It isn’t because Michigan’s governor is from a different political party. Republican Gov. Snyder has long been a vocal supporter of passenger rail development, unlike his Republican counterpart in Ohio who said “We’re not going to run some program that some train cult wants to support” (SOURCE: http://bit.ly/mRBfjz).

In fact, Gov. Snyder has stressed the importance of passenger rail to his state’s economy and jobs.  When the Federal Railroad Administration awarded Michigan a $199.3 million grant last May, Snyder said: “This investment in our rail system is critical to Michigan’s recovery” (SOURCE: http://bit.ly/pCkJcU).

Nor is it because Michigan’s legislature has a different majority party than Ohio’s. The Michigan Senate and House both have Republican majorities which didn’t consider the rail funding a controversial issue. Indeed, the House approved SB 237 by a near-unanimous 101-8 margin, and Senate approved it by a 33-5 count (SOURCE: http://tinyurl.com/6a23eco).

Scio Township Republican State Rep. Mark Ouimet said in a written statement this week: “High-speed rail represents the future of passenger service in the United States, and it’s only fitting that Ann Arbor become a hub for this groundbreaking mode of transportation. It could usher in an economic boon as well” (SOURCE: http://bit.ly/pxHhjl).

In fact, political partisanship wasn’t a factor at all, as Democrats joined Republicans to strongly support the rail project, too.

So what made the difference? Two issues: support from the track-owning freight railroad and experience with a passenger rail service that the state hasn’t had to subsidize.

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2 Comments to "That “State up North” is cleaning the Buckeye State’s clock"

  1. Melissa's Gravatar Melissa
    September 30, 2011 - 9:26 PM | Permalink

    Not impressed with Ohio. The Ohio city i used to live in ticketed me $50 for riding my bike on the sidewalk, the ticketing officer refused to let me off with a warning, and the city refused to even reduce the fine on appeal. The Michigan city I now live in has miles and miles of bike paths, including downtown (and still allows you to ride on sidewalks, btw). Now this? Very unimpressive, very environmentally unfriendly. Boo, Ohio.

  2. H Van Iten's Gravatar H Van Iten
    October 1, 2011 - 3:00 PM | Permalink

    Substantial improvement of America’s regional passenger rail networks is a forced move that Ohio simply cannot avoid. Sooner or later the Buckeye State will have to acknowledge that highways alone cannot do the job, and that more and more Americans are rejecting automobiles and demanding expanded public transit.

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