Monday, November 8, 2010

It's About Diversity

Everyone in Michigan's transit community was tickled by the October 20 announcement of $150M for Wolverine rail corridor improvement under TIGER II, part of ARRA. This amount - trivial by highway standards - is truly significant for rail.

Congressman John Dingell was given the honor of announcing the grant, and I'm sure it's as significant for him as for us. But let it be noted that these funds were awarded based on US DOT's merit-based formula, not on earmarks from the Congressman. I'm proud that Michigan earned the money fair and square, rather than by whining to our legislators.

As a competitive program, TIGER II is able to fund the best projects from around the country. Using merit-based evaluation criteria allows the Department of Transportation to address some of the nation’s most critical challenges like sustainability and economic competitiveness. (

BTW - there was lot of negative campaign noise about Dingell 's age and long service in Congress. In the words of one blog comment/flame, "He’s a washed up old geezer…. Move on old dude and let some new blood and new ideas into office". I find it interesting that a congressman who was in office when the Interstate highway system was legislated (and I have to believe he supported it!) is now such a staunch advocate of high(er) speed rail. I wonder what "new ideas" our flaming friend was thinking of (if any)?

Many negative commentators seem to fear that transit investment will "take away" our cars. Of course, no transit advocate has ever suggested that seriously. But the critics seem quite happy to keep others from having further options. As one commenter jokingly put it, "We don’t need a railway. Rich people have cars and poor people can just walk."

It's a well-accepted maxim that there's strength in diversity. Michigan's economic woes stem in large part from lack of diversity. Over-reliance on manufacturing (primarily of automobiles) brought Michigan down further and faster in this recession than most other states.

It's the same in transportation. Cities with high-capacity electric rail don't quake in fear of OPEC as much as cities that depend on oil for mobility. They have a backup system. Families with transportation options over and above the automobile can spend their money on more diverse things. They have a backup system. We're still seeing a savings of about $9000/year for families that can use transit rather than owning and operating a second auto.

Transit makes it possible for a more diverse group of people to live in an area - including senior citizens and mobility-challenged folks, as well as immigrants from countries that don't depend on privately owned vehicles for mobility. Remember, Michigan Future found that the nation's most successful metropolitan regions are all more welcoming to diverse populations, including immigrants, than is Michigan.

Diversity and mobility options are hardly new ideas, but they have a powerful, positive effect on society. I appreciate John Dingell's support of those ideas, whether they're new or old. I'm glad he will be back in Washington come January.

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE:
    What's Michigan planning to do with its funds? This according to the National Association of Rail Passengers:
    "Michigan, with $150 million, will purchase (subject to Surface Transportation Board approval) and upgrade Norfolk Southern’s ex-Michigan Central Kalamazoo-Dearborn line and do major track work in West Detroit."
    Owning the track will eliminate the lengthy negotiation process with Norfolk Southern when any schedule or track configuration changes are needed. But of course, it will bring new expenses and responsibilities with it. Will we, the citizens of Michigan, step up to the plate and accept these responsibilities? I hope so: it's equivalent to getting a whole new I-94, if we manage the investment wisely.