The following guest post is by Kevin Brubaker, Deputy Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. Kevin manages the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network Project for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Their 15 years of advocacy on this important and visionary project are finally paying off, as the Midwest is poised to get help from the federal stimulus program to make high-speed rail in the region a reality. Linking Detroit and other major Midwestern cities with high-speed rail would make the individual cities and collective region far more economically competitive and attract new jobs, businesses, and residents. It would also make transportation in the Midwest more sustainable and reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels. As Kevin’s post makes clear, Michigan needs strong political leadership on this issue right now to take advantage of the federal funding and move the region forward with high-speed rail.
Michigan residents currently have two options to travel to Chicago: wasting time and wasting gas as our cars creep along congested highways; or buying costly airline tickets, waiting in security lines and then, if the flight is on time, making the trip from the airport to downtown. Today, Michigan has a unique opportunity to create a more convenient, reliable and sustainable travel alternative – high-speed rail.
The Midwest all but gave up on rail travel decades ago, and ever since we’ve been missing out on a form of transportation that is enjoyed by every other industrialized country in the world. The lack of travel options has been holding our region back, wasting time and money, encouraging sprawl and polluting our air. Business, civic and environmental leaders have spent years planning and advocating for a Midwest high speed rail network, and with good reason:
- Better transportation options will increase mobility, bring more visitors and more economic development here while making Michigan a more attractive place to live and work.
- Developing rail transportation will create jobs and increase mobility at one-tenth the cost of building new highways.
- Our transportation system is one of the biggest reasons we’re dependent on foreign oil and our second biggest source of air pollution. Reliable, convenient rail transportation uses far less fuel per passenger and creates less pollution than cars or planes; it’s a step toward reaching energy independence and solving climate change.
- A 2007 report found that the average Detroit driver wastes 54 hours per year sitting in traffic and that traffic congestion costs the US $78 billion per year. High-speed rail reduces congestion, is time competitive with airline travel and is a more productive way to get around. For business travelers equipped with laptops and cell phones, time spent on the train can be almost as valuable as time spent in the office.
The arguments in favor of high speed rail are clear. The first question has always been, “How do we pay for it?” Now that the economic stimulus has committed $8 billion to develop high-speed rail, the Midwest has an opportunity to finally put plans for a high-speed rail network in motion. States will need to compete for funding, so Michigan needs to act now to make sure we don’t miss out on the opportunity.
The other question is, will people really choose to travel by high-speed rail instead of in cars or planes? The answer across the region has been “if you build it, they will come.” When rail service has improved, ridership has increased. When Amtrak improved service from Chicago to St. Louis last year, the number of passengers doubled. Ridership from Milwaukee to Chicago has risen 25% this year, even with the tough economy and lower gas prices.
The economic stimulus provides an opportunity to create not just jobs, but also a modern, convenient and sustainable high-speed network that will bring economic development and long term growth to Michigan. You can help make it happen. The Environmental Law and Policy Center is asking citizens to contact your governor and ask her to make high speed rail a priority.