Troy’s rail transit vote roars toward deadline

From the Detroit Free Press:

After nearly a dozen years of yes votes, the Troy City Council faces one final vote and a deadline Dec. 19 that outsiders say is crucial for metro Detroit — whether to accept federal money and build a rail transit center.

The glorified train station would be on Troy’s border with Birmingham and would load Amtrak passengers from cars, buses, taxis and bikes. Transit boosters say it’s a forward-thinking link to the high-speed rail initiative passed this year in Washington, which received matching funds in Lansing.

Opponents call it another boondoggle in metro Detroit’s string of mass-transit failures that include two anemic bus systems and an underutilized Detroit People Mover. Leading the critics, and pledging to torpedo an $8.5-million federal allocation that some say is important to the region beyond Troy, is the city’s new mayor, Janice Daniels.

“It’s a terrible waste of money, and I don’t care if it’s coming from Washington, D.C. — that’s still taxpayers’ money,” Daniels said last month. “How do you justify taking $8.5 million from a government that is trillions of dollars in debt?”

Transit foes have visited the Troy train stop — currently a bare-bones bus shelter that actually is on the Birmingham side of the tracks — and found “there’s only two people going through there, on average, for the whole train,” said Jim Grix, a retired sales executive with German auto supplier Bosch.

“We’re going to have this big edifice and an expensive bridge crossing the tracks, elevators on both sides, and only two people there. If this passes, there’s going to be recalls of (council members) who vote for it,” said Grix, who lives in Troy.

The official Amtrak ridership from the site was 18,695 in 2009, 22,286 in 2010 and 24,121 through September for fiscal year 2011, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

The numbers are for all arrivals and departures on the route’s three round-trip trains — morning, midday and night — every 24 hours, Magliari said.The number of passenger trains per day will increase “as the development of this corridor through Michigan proceeds” in the next few years, he said.

Troy shouldn’t look at the transit center “in a vacuum,” Troy Mayor Pro Tem Maureen McGinnis said. Communities across Michigan, as well as the state Legislature, joined the federal government’s high-speed rail initiative to link Troy and Detroit with Chicago and points between, she said.

In addition, Troy’s business stakeholders and residents repeatedly supported the transit center in committee meetings and public forums, she said.

“The actions of City Council need to follow that mandate,” McGinnis said.

At the Dec. 19 meeting, Troy Chamber of Commerce President Michele Hodges said, she plans to have a bevy of top business executives speak in favor of the transit center — leaders of Tier I auto suppliers Magna International and Meritor, as well as officials from Beaumont Hospital Kelly Services and other major employers.

“They clearly see this as regional issue. It’s not just about Troy,” Hodges said.