By Larry Sobczak
The Michigan Passenger Editor
The Troy City Council listened to public comments Dec. 5 whether to proceed with the Multimodal Transit Center to be located near Maple and Coolidge roads.
More than a dozen people from Troy and nearby areas expressed their support or opposition to the $8.4 million transit center proposed to service Amtrak trains, SMART buses, a rental car agency and a taxi stand as well as more than 100 parking spaces for station users. Planners envision future commuter rail serving the station.
The transit center is planned along the Canadian National Railroad tracks just southeast of the existing Plexiglas bus shelter/station in Birmingham. The city received the grant from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last year to fund the entire cost of the project.
The city council must go through the normally routine step of picking architectural and construction firms by Dec. 19 after it had entered into a construction agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation to build the station in September. However, in the meantime, a new mayor and two new councilmen were elected in November.
Newly-elected Mayor Janice Daniels questioned the wisdom of the transit center when the federal government is experiencing record deficits and had asked the city council to reopen discussion of the station at her first city council meeting in November. Daniels is a co-founder of the Troy Area Tea Party and ran on a campaign against government deficit spending.
“I can assure that the funding source for this grant has been identified and the funds are properly appropriated,” said Troy Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Hodges during the public comment section of the council meeting. “This is not deficit spending.”
Hodges said her 725-member organization is overwhelmingly in support of the transit center with Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T and Magna giving individual endorsements to the project.
The council did not act on the contracts at the Dec. 5 council meeting and did not apporive it as a council discussion item at the meeting. If council fails to pick the architect and construction firm by Dec. 19, the grant will be reclaimed by the FRA.
Daniels had asked the city council to allow allow David Wisz, who is against the project, to give a PowerPoint presentation with his opinions as a regular council agenda item and to exceed the usual five minute limit allotted speakers.
In a procedural snub to the new mayor, the council denied her request by a vote of 4-3 and instead relegated Wisz to the public comment section of the meeting with a five–minute speaking limit with no access to the council’s audio-visusal equipment.
An usually large crowd was on hand, mostly to criticize Daniels for her an anti-gay slur she had made on her Facebook page which made it difficult for Wisz to speak. When he began to allege conspiracies from transit groups and others, the crowd began to purposely drown out Wisz‘s voice and laugh at him.
Wisz also made several allegations about crimes at transit stations and when he called the train service between Detroit and Troy a “heroin express,” the crowd began to shout and boo at Wisz.
Wisz alleged that public transportation has been in decline but did not cite the source of his statistics.
Amtrak Spokesman Charlie MontVerde rebutted Wisz’s comments about ridership in the public comment section. He said that number of people using public transporation last year exceeded the prior record set in 1957 and expects continued growth well into the future. He stated Amtrak has carried a record 30 million passengers last year and has seen ridership increase by 46 percent over the past 11 years.
“We can attribute some of those increases to the transformation of stations into multi modal stations like the one proposed here,” MontVerde said.
None of the public comments addressed the architectureal and construction contacts which the council must approve in the next two weeks. Instead, most public comments were about planning issues such as traffic, crime and overall need which have been covered during the prior ten years of meetings and planning sessions for the station..
The Troy City Council’s next scheduled meeting is 7:30 p.m., Dec. 19.