At a public meeting organized by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, a group of about sixty local residents gave their opinions last night on the various public transportation alternatives that SEMCOG is currently considering for a possible transportation link between Ann Arbor and Detroit.
The initiative is part of a federally approved process in which the Council will decide upon the appropriate transportation alternative to connect Ann Arbor with the Metro Airport and downtown Detroit. In addition to factoring in the needs of the residents of the surrounding area, the study will also look at environmental factors, according to the SEMCOG website. By going through this process, SEMCOG’s transit initiative will qualify for $100 million of federal funding.
The five alternatives presented yesterday include commuter rail options which would share the existing railway lines with the freight and Amtrak trains, light rail options which would require their own infrastructure, and bus rapid transit options, which would run on existing roads at higher speeds.
SEMCOG’s director of transportation programs, Carmine Palombo, said the decision between these alternatives is largely based on the analysis done by residents. He said residents present at a previous meeting in Detroit spoke more favorably about the rail options than the bus line. “It’s a 48 mile long trip (from Ann Arbor to Downtown Detroit). We’re now wondering how many people would want to ride in a bus for that long,” Palombo said.
Residents at the meeting in Ann Arbor expressed their concern over the number of passengers that would be able to travel within rush-hour periods, and the facilities for handicapped passengers. They also expressed concern over the coordination with other trains, such as the Amtrak lines and local transit systems such as the Ann Arbor Transit Authority. Palombo said many of these aspects of the transportation system are still being worked out.
Once a method of transportation is decided on, the implementation process will begin, with SEMCOG finding another agency to operate the service.
State Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) introduced a bill in August that would create a Detroit Area Rapid Transit Authority to take the place of such an agency in overseeing and implementing the extension of public transportation to Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Washtenaw and Monroe County from the city of Detroit. The bill is the third in a series of attempts to set up this transit authority. The first was vetoed by former Gov. John Engler, while the second establishment of the authority led only to litigation against administrative methods.
Kolb stressed the importance of mass transit between Ann Arbor and Detroit. “It’s an economic bonus if we have an ability to move so that we can go into the city (and) to all of the cultural attractions from the zoo, to museums, to different shopping areas,” he said. “This will allow people to move around the region in a much more cost effective manner.”
Palombo also said this region is especially in need of mass transit because of the large numbers of students and employees who may not have access to individual automobiles. He said within the Southeastern region of Michigan, there are 10 universities, with more than 100,000 combined students. He also pointed out that 1,800 people work at the Detroit Metro Airport and could be using public transportation to get to work.
But Kolb said it is difficult to pass a bill that creates a mass transit authority. “You’re changing the status quo. There is not unanimous support for mass transit,” he said.
State Rep. Leon Drolet (R