Are Detroit and Michigan Ready to Modernize Their Aging Transportation Systems?

Gov. Rick Snyder is emerging as a champion for transportation issues in Michigan, having laid out ambitious plans recently for everything from light rail and high-speed buses in Detroit to restructuring how the state funds road and bridge construction. But does his vision stand any chance of becoming reality?

The governor, a former businessman, sees the issue as key to the state’s economic redevelopment. But as his setback last month on building a publicly owned Detroit River bridge showed, getting his agenda implemented isn’t always a slam dunk despite being a member of the same political party calling the shots these days in Lansing.

Snyder on Monday called for improved commuter and freight rail connections with Canada, and he called on the Legislature to act in 2012 on his proposal for a network of high-speed buses along major roads in metropolitan Detroit. The governor unveiled many of these proposals last week in an effort to create a long-sought regional transit system in Detroit and shore up flagging revenues for repairing roads and bridges.

From the Freep:

Snyder portrayed improvements to Michigan’s roads, buses and rail as crucial to the state’s economic recovery, providing jobs and support for manufacturing and agricultural exports and making the state a more attractive place for businesses and residents. He said improved passenger and freight systems would allow Michigan to become a key transportation hub serving the Midwest and Canada, the nation’s largest trading partner.

It’s not clear how the region would fund new high-speed buses, but Snyder has proposed replacing the 19-cent-per-gallon retail gas tax consumers pay at the pump with a tax on the wholesale price of gasoline and diesel fuel.

From The Detroit News:

Snyder said Michigan would still be $1.4 billion short of road revenue on top of the revenue raised by the wholesale fuel tax and suggested measures including a $120 increase in state vehicle registration fees and allowing communities to assess up to an additional $40 in vehicle registration fees with voter approval.

Detroit appears to be closer than ever before to making light rail a reality, its fractured bus system is crying out for improvement, and anyone who drives on Michigan roads knows we have our work cut out for us in catching up to the 21st century.

But it’s worth pointing out that Snyder suffered a significant defeat when lawmakers voted against a new Detroit -Windsor bridge despite the governor’s efforts to sell it as a jobs creator, Canada’s offer to pay Michigan’s share and the support of many prominent business interests.

Is Michigan ready to modernize its transportation infrastructure? Are the governor’s initiatives worth pursuing?

Photo by Matt.Picio

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