Michigan is getting left behind. No, it's hardly the "rapture". As our state writhes in the grip of legislators who refuse to allow investment in our people or our infrastructure, population drops and industries leave. Planning Commission meetings in Ypsi Township are cancelled because there's practically no new development, and scant money to pay the commissioners for their time.
The economy is bad. But it's not like that all over the country. I subscribe to Rail magazine, ("Connecting Communities by Moving People") whose current issue features articles on five regions that have recently inaugurated new rail service. All are very much like what Wake Up Washtenaw has been proposing for the rail line north and south of Ann Arbor: (1) use a freight rail line that sees little freight traffic or has been abandoned, and (2) use diesel multiple-unit cars (DMUs). These paragraphs really jumped out at me in the article about Austin, Texas's, new MetroRail:
Leander Takes the Lead
Leander Mayor John Cowman is an enthusiastic proponent of Capital Metro's Red Line and of regional rail in general. He credits passenger rail with fundamentally changing the image - and future - of Leander (pronounced Lee-ann-duhr [li 'æn dr]).
"Our sleepy little hamlet, which many regarded as the laughing stock of the Austin region, [nothing like Ypsilanti, of course! - LK] has been awakened and rail is a key component in that change," says Mayor Cowman.
Indeed, the changes around Leander in the past decade have been significant. Since Cowman was first elected in 2003, the population of Leander has jumped from 12,000 to more than 30,000. [Probably half of them from Mexico and half from Michigan. - LK]
Today, significant transit-oriented development is underway in the town and the local economy has seen the arrival of several new employers. [Mostly relocating from Michigan? - LK] In 2005, Leander adopted a 23,000 acre transit-oriented development community plan that encourages more dense development as well as improved pedestrian and biking right-of-ways. [23,000 acres? WOW!!!]
"Recently, a manufacturing firm located itself here in Leander," says Cowman. "This brings hundreds of new jobs along with it, and the first words out of their mouth about why they selected Leander was, 'access to public transit.'"
For mayor Cowman and many residents of Leander, the approach of the Red Line is more than just a passenger rail link to Austin, it is an affirmation of the community's dedicated sales [...] tax to Capital Metro and [its] vote in 2004.
"We're energized by the train, we've been anticipating the day it starts serving Leander for a good while and it gives us a feeling that we did the right thing," says Cowman. "And since that vote, so many issues have cropped up like the economy and fuel prices that the train will help us manage."