MACKINAC ISLAND — The three leading candidates for Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat all agree on at least one thing: Michigan is in dire need of a transportation and infrastructure overhaul.
But they differ in their approaches on how to implement proposed solutions.
The incumbent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.), said during her time in the U.S. House of Representatives, she started work on a proposal to create commuter rail services from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro Airport and downtown Detroit.
“That’s moving along slower than I would like, but I think we’ve got the makings,” she said.
Stabenow and two of her potential Republican challengers — former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Clark Durant, founding chair of Cornerstone Schools in Detroit, who each expressed doubts about public funding of mass transit and a new bridge connecting Detroit and Canada — took turns speaking at a reception Wednesday as part of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference.
Jesse Bernstein and Michael Ford — chairman and CEO, respectively, of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority — are both on the island attending the conference and responded positively to Stabenow’s statement.
“We’ve been ready for it. We’d love to have it,” Bernstein said. “Anything we can do to support rail, to support any transit — north, south, east or west — we’re for it. We’ll do what we can, but it’s not in our control to do it, so we’re ready whenever they are.”
Durant, however, was openly critical of the plan to connect Ann Arbor to Detroit and the airport and he also expressed doubts that it would ever come to fruition because of its reliance on federal government subsidies — something he said he opposes.
Still, Durant said he’s committed to seeing a light rail line built on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. He added that private firms need to put some “serious skin in the game” because any proposal would need to have significant private backing.
“You really have to say to yourself, ‘Is this going to be self-sustaining, or are we creating just another People Mover that has to continually be subsidized in different ways?’ ” he said.
Stabenow praised the private efforts to build a new rail line in Detroit and said she supports expanded mass transit plans throughout metro Detroit.
Hoekstra, the likely Republican nominee, spent a significant portion of his time at the panel passionately defending comments he made recently that suggest there should be a government agency that would investigate presidential candidates’ eligibility.
Hoekstra also spoke about the need for improved infrastructure at Detroit’s border with Canada. However, Hoekstra was noncommittal about the role the government should play in funding the project, saying the project should at least be privately funded in part.
Hoekstra added, though, that he’d like to see more than just a new bridge at the border if Detroit is “going to be a great transportation hub.” He specifically mentioned that he’d like to see an expanded tunnel beneath the Detroit River to accommodate larger truck traffic.
“It is not just about a bridge. It is about a bridge, it is about a tunnel, it is about the airport,” Hoekstra said. “These are all assets to the state of Michigan.”
Stabenow and Durant struck similar chords when discussing the second span to Windsor, both saying another bridge was needed to improve commerce with Canada.
Though Stabenow said she firmly supports Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed publicly funded plan, Durant said he supports a bridge built by private funds.
“I’m not in favor of monopolies, whether they be private or public, so I would encourage, if there is enough traffic to justify (a second bridge), well then fine — let’s see if the private money can come together,” Durant said.
Correction appended: An earlier version of this article misstated the type of rail proposed to connect Ann Arbor and Detroit.