Gov. Snyder tells summit that rail service is vital to Michigan

By Matt Helms

Detroit Free Press

(MCT)

Oct. 31–LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder said today that he wants action in 2012 on his proposal for a network of high-speed buses along major roads in metro Detroit.

Snyder also said he believes lawmakers will find a way to raise additional money for road and bridge repairs and improvements to rail and bus service statewide, despite a tepid response from the Legislature last week to his suggestion to raise vehicle registration fees on Michigan drivers to pay for the state’s unfunded transportation needs.

Snyder made the remarks this afternoon at the Michigan Rail Summit at the Lansing Center, a gathering of rail advocates and elected officials from across the state as well as Obama Administration officials aimed at drumming up support for expansion of passenger and freight rail. Snyder spoke along with U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari at the summit, organized by the Michigan Environmental Council.

Last week Snyder unveiled his transportation agenda, calling for reform of how Michigan government spends its road and transit funding, coupled with a proposal for state lawmakers and voters to consider raising automobile registration fees by as much as $120 a year per vehicle to fund road repairs and transit system improvements.

Snyder also wants state lawmakers and officials in Detroit and Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties to create a system of high-speed buses along major routes including Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan avenues between Detroit and its suburbs, along M-59 and including a connector to Metro Airport and Ann Arbor.

“I would hope we can get something done by next year,” Snyder said of the bus proposal he sees as a way to jump-start progress on a coordinated regional transit system of buses and light rail in southeast Michigan. “As a practical matter, we’re starting to have those discussions. We’re making progress at pulling something together” to boost public transportation in metro Detroit.

Snyder portrayed improvements to Michigan’s roads, buses and rail as crucial to the state’s economic recovery, providing jobs and support for manufacturing and agricultural exports and making the state a more attractive place for businesses and residents. He said improved passenger and freight systems would allow Michigan to become a key transportation hub serving the Midwest and Canada, the nation’s largest trading partner.

The federal government has awarded Michigan more than $350 million to buy and improve track and acquire modern locomotives to boost speedier passenger rail between Detroit and Chicago, including the purchase of 135 miles of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The aim is to boost passenger rail speeds to 110 m.p.h. between Detroit and Chicago and eliminate freight bottlenecks that delay passenger trains.

Snyder said he’s convinced the state needs to spend up to $1.4 billion a year more to fix roads and improve bus and train service, but he’s not supporting a particular way to raise the money; options include a higher sales tax or his suggestion to raise vehicle registration fees.

Snyder said he wants to see a public discussion “about how to do this the right way.”

Contact Matt Helms: mhelms@freepress.com, @matthelms or 313-222-1450.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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