Transportation experts eye four major proposed Michigan rail routes

From the Great Lakes Echo:

Michigan’s transportation organizations are studying planes, trains and automobiles.

More options for public transit could play a huge role in the state’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining people young and old, Michigan transportation experts say. They’ve recently launched four studies to assess the feasibility of new Michigan rail routes.

The studies will assess traffic flows, taking into consideration automobile, bus and air traffic, said Elizabeth Treutel, a Michigan Environmental Council policy associate.

“A big goal of the studies is understanding what are the traffic flows now?” she said. “Where are people going? Where are people coming from? How are they getting there? And then what is the likelihood that [they] would switch to a train if they had that option?”

About one-third of Michigan’s population is too young or too old to drive or they are physically or financially unable to, Treutel said. And rail is the friendliest motorized transportation for the environment. It helps attract and retain recent college graduates who care about protecting it, she said.

Rail also has economic impacts for the communities it connects.

“We know that passenger rail brings in $64 million in community benefits to the state every year,” Treutel said. “That’s the passenger rail lines that exist currently, which are the three Amtrak lines that go from Grand Rapids to Chicago, Detroit to Chicago, and then Port Huron to Chicago.”

Grand Valley State University recently quantified those benefits, such as the money Amtrak spends on equipment and labor and the money travelers save and can then spend in local businesses, she said.

The four major proposals for railways between cities in Michigan include a commuter line that would run from Howell to Ann Arbor and another from Ann Arbor to Detroit, Treutel said. Longer routes are proposed to run from Ann Arbor to Traverse City and from Detroit through Lansing and Grand Rapids and end in Holland.

“They’re all very different,” Treutel said. “They’re serving different areas of the state, and they’re at different points of development.”

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