Commentary: Right decision made on Troy transit center

From The Detroit News:

By Dale Murrish

Now that the Troy City Council has decided against building a new transit center, other solutions can be considered.

Perhaps by combining our best ideas and filtering out the bad arguments we can find the best way forward. The most important thing to remember is this: the $8.4 million in federal money being offered would have simply moved the station; it wouldn’t have improved the service.

People with cars will still have other options, such as driving a half-hour to Dearborn, cutting an hour off the train trip to Chicago and $2 to $4 off the fare. They can also drive to Detroit or Ann Arbor and take a cheaper bus to Union Station. The rest of the Futures 2020 Plan will probably never happen. Part of Phase 2, a light-rail line on Woodward, fell through recently because of the required $10 million annual subsidy.

Comparing crowded cities such as New York and Shanghai to Detroit is a bad argument. Thankfully, we don’t have their traffic and parking problems. Comparing roads to rail is also apples to oranges. People and freight are two different cargoes. Amtrak has a terrible record of losing money, while some bus companies make profits with the good highway system we now have.

The most disturbing argument was the idea that the money was already spent in Congress’ mind, and that it would go to another state if we didn’t use it. We should get our fair share of federal money coming back to us, but as Ben Franklin said, we should not be “confounded by our own regional interests.”

Everything mentioned in the pro-transit center arguments can be accomplished by improving the current Birmingham station. It could be spruced up with more comfortable seats, a heated building and a covered platform.

Someone can walk a quarter-mile west, have a cup of coffee and sandwich and then catch a bus on Maple Road.

In contrast, the proposed new site in Troy was behind Kohl’s and better suited for buses and cars and difficult for bicycles. The area around the Troy site is light industrial and much less attractive.

The only drawback of the current site is the lack of parking.

The transit center arguments have been disturbingly Troy-centric. Like most metropolitan areas, the only way to tell you’ve crossed a border is the signs. It wouldn’t have been very neighborly of us to steal Birmingham’s station because it doesn’t want to spend millions of our tax money to move it a quarter mile to a less desirable location.

Finally, this government project was more expensive than necessary: $8.4 million for a 2,400-square-foot building with $30,000 in annual upkeep. More than $8 million for a 2,400-square-foot house would leave money for gold-plated fixtures and chandeliers in the bathrooms.

With some creativity, we might be able to accomplish the same goal without any government funds. That would send a strong message to Washington and other cities to follow our example.

Dale Murrish has worked in the transportation industry since 1979 at Caterpillar and GM. He’s a 26-year member of SAE, the professional society for mobility engineers and has lived in Troy for 23 years.