The Michigan legislature on Wednesday approved a supplemental spending bill that will unlock federal funds to fast-track improvements along the planned high-speed rail line between Detroit and Chicago.
Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bill, which uses a combination of $39.2 million in local, private and state transportation funds as a match to finish unlocking $358.9 million in competitive federal grants.
Most significantly, the legislation sets aside money for the state to purchase and rehabilitate a 138 mile segment of tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo that currently is owned by Norfolk Southern. If you’ve taken Amtrak to Chicago in the past few months, you know congestion on this stretch has been causing regular delays, but improvements there, coupled with nearly completed work between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana are expected to allow trains to travel up to 110 mph and cut the trip from Detroit to under 4.5 hours.
The bill also authorizes spending on a track connection project in west Detroit, construction of a new station in Grand Rapids and preliminary engineering and environmental work to position the Ann Arbor station for future construction funding.
Michigan won a sizable portion of the federal rail funds — nearly $200 million — after Florida’s Republican governor rejected stimulus dollars awarded by the Obama administration, but Snyder has embraced high-speed rail.
“Accelerated rail service has the ability to enhance our economy, environment and overall quality of life,” he said back in May when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood presented state leaders with a giant check.
“An investment of this magnitude can spur economic development in our communities with rail stations, and provide access to a 21st century rail system that will help Michigan citizens compete in a global economy.”
While some Michigan Republicans have expressed skepticism that high-speed rail is a good investment, both the state House and the Senate approved the appropriations bill — which also authorized spending for several other programs — by wide margins.
Kevin Brubaker, deputy director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, praised the development.
“Lawmakers in Michigan, and Governor Rick Snyder, rightly recognize that passenger rail is critical to restore the economic health of the region, creating jobs now while putting the infrastructure in place to keep Michigan competitive in the future,” he said. “Good policy does indeed make good politics and we hope others will look to Michigan as a role model for bipartisan progress.”