Blog: Gretchen Driskell

Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell has put her stamp on a multitude of development and transportation projects during her seven terms in office. This week she writes on why loitering is welcome in downtown Saline, the personal property tax, and mass transit coming to lower Michigan.

The Train Stops Here

Growing up on the end of the commuter line into Manhattan meant that I could walk into the city. Can you imagine what that could mean to a youngster?

When an individual has mobility beyond the automobile, the world is a different place.  I must admit I took this for granted until I moved to Michigan. My career in Washington, D.C. was accessed by the Metro, as were most social events.  So it was no surprise that when I became an elected official, a primary area of interest was our transportation system.

Transportation is an economic development issue.  It is also a talent recruitment and retention issue. There are multiple aspects to an effective transportation system. The undervalued aspects in Michigan (and, to be fair, in most of the U.S.) include everything except the roadway, which is why I am delighted that the AATA has developed a 30-year, countywide transit master plan. There is still a lot of work to do.  A governance board is just beginning and a finance group is identifying funding options. The good news is we finally have an integrated plan that coordinates transportation between jurisdictions and modes, so whether you're a rider of choice (a.k.a. commuter), a senior who wants the ability to age in place and get to the doctor and grocery store, or a teenager that wants to get to where it's happening, we can be providing these options in the future.  And most importantly, this plan will be implemented in a coordinated, regional manner.

Coincidentally, transportation infrastructure funding has been a hot topic this past week. Our governor spoke to the need for additional investment in our system, in all modes.  Our state is unable to match the federal dollars that you and I pay at the pump, which means we don't get that money coming back to our system. This shortfall has been predicted for years and needs to be addressed by our state legislators now. The longer we take to find money to fix the system the more decrepit it becomes, and the cost to fix it is much higher (comparable to not fixing a roof leak in your home).

This week, Governor Snyder spoke specifically to the need for increased investment in rail, both passenger and freight.   A long term vision of improved rail will make us more competitive, with an increased ability to move goods and people.  Our border with Canada is the most heavily trafficked in the nation for freight movement, and providing additional capacity is imperative to develop future economic opportunities and position Michigan for future success.  

President Obama and the USDOT have a vision to build a high speed rail system comparable to European and Asian rail. The Jobs Act introduced by the president calls for additional investment in high speed rail, and Michigan's line between Detroit and Chicago has been designated one of 11 corridors across the U.S.  So far, the state has been able to access $350 million to purchase and stabilize the Norfolk Southern line (enabling increased speeds for the AMTRAK line).  These federal dollars assist our local efforts to initiate the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter line.  

Implementing a transit vision for southeast Michigan is complex but vital to our future.  Barriers include funding, a regional authority, and a perceived lack of need.  If we are to become a state that is a leader in this country once again, we must have infrastructure that belongs in the 21st century.

Everyone deserves to have access to education and jobs, to know they can age in place, and to have transportation choices.  Personally, I can't wait for the day my daughter and I can take the train to the DIA!