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Welcome to SEMCOG's Think Regional/Act Local blog! SEMCOG is the only organization in Southeast Michigan that brings together all governments to solve regional challenges and enhance the quality of life for the seven-county regions 4.7 million residents. With this regional perspective in mind, we work with member local governments to sustain our regions reputation as a great place to work, play, and do business.

 

Our panel of SEMCOG staff bloggers will post daily to this blog, discussing SEMCOG's data, federal and state legislative issues, and environmental and fiscal sustainability best practices for local governments all with the goal of creating a successful future for the region.

 

 

Think Regional/Act Local

Progress – at least on one front

(Freight, Transportation) Permanent link

 

February 23, 2015 – Let’s take a week off from all of the talk of no additional funding and the merits of Prop 1 and talk about a project that continues to inch forward – the New International Trade Crossing. Interestingly, the project continues to move forward only because the Canadian government continues to fund the project. The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza in Detroit under a deal agreed to by both countries. 

 

The Canadians had hoped the U.S. would pay for construction of its own customs plaza, but that will not happen under the newly signed agreement. Canada, along with a private-sector partner soon to be selected by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, will now be paying the project’s full construction costs.

 

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the costs. Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to cover all U.S. customs staffing costs for the new bridge, but the cost of the plaza construction will be recouped in the years ahead through tolls and other sources such as duty-free goods and gas.

 

The project’s next steps include ramping up property acquisition in Detroit to make room for the new bridge plaza and a feeder road in Delray that will link to the I-75 freeway. A new border highway in Windsor to link with the bridge is expected to be fully open to traffic by the end of this year.

 

Isn’t it ironic that one of the most important projects in our state and our region is moving forward with little or no funding from Michigan or the U.S.? It is amazing what can get done when you have a vision, a plan, and requisite funding to implement a plan. We can all learn something from the Canadian approach to this project.

 

NITC
Image: State of Michigan Presidential Permit Application (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/194997.pdf)

 

 

 
Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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Anticipation

(Legislation, Public transportation, Regionalism, Transportation) Permanent link

 

February 16, 2015 – Transportation has been in the news a lot lately – and not in good ways either. All of the stories have been about how our infrastructure has negatively impacted us in one way or another. This is not a surprise given that the state legislature has not increased funding since 1997 and real dollars have actually declined over the years. It is hard to do more with less. 

 

Last week, a state auditor general report criticized MDOT for spending $10 million on rail cars for service that has yet to begin. The implication is that these dollars could have been spent on other more important items. If you take a narrow view of the situation, you can see how they would come up with this conclusion. It is true. The cars are sitting at a rail yard in Owosso and are not in revenue service. However, sometimes you need to look at the big picture to see the plan and the vision.

 

Government is constantly being pushed to operate like a business, to be more entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurs have a vision for future needs and find innovative ways to get there. And they have to be patient.

 

SEMCOG and MDOT have been working on bringing commuter rail service back to the Detroit-Ann Arbor corridor for a number of years. It is a plan that began years ago after a joint study indicated commuter rail was the preferred way of connecting Ann Arbor to Detroit. The plan has many moving parts – tracks needed to be acquired and improved, stations identified and upgraded, and cars and locomotives secured. Well, much of this has occurred. Specifically:

  • MDOT purchased the track and is improving the track and signal systems with federal dollars.
  • Obviously, cars have been leased and beautifully refurbished. 
  • A project is underway in west Detroit that will eliminate a major conflict between freight and commuter trains, cutting about 10 minutes off the existing Pontiac to Chicago service as well as the new Ann Arbor to Detroit service. 
  • Local communities have also invested time and resources in new station construction. A new station has recently opened in Dearborn. Studies are underway for stations in Ann Arbor and the New Center area in Detroit. Ypsilanti is looking at making improvements to the old Depot Station. 
  • Displays of the rail cars and proposed new service have occurred in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Livingston County. These displays have drawn thousands of people eager for the beginning of service

All of this has happened with no new state revenue! I would say that MDOT and the communities should be commended for their vision and tenacity to continuing to move forward – slower than anyone wants – to implement this plan. We have the plan, tracks are being fixed, and stations are being built/improved. The cars can be leased out for a while, but with some additional dollars and an agreement from Amtrak, we are closer to being able to begin service in this corridor than we have since the late 1970s.

 

 

 
Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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Travel survey helps us plan for region’s transportation needs

(Public outreach, Public transportation, Transportation) Permanent link

 

February 9, 2015 - Ever wonder how we project traffic on a roadway or how we project the impact of a new development on the surrounding roads? Well, knowing the travel habits of households in Southeast Michigan helps us to determine these calculations and other types of analysis. We can use your help to ensure the relationships we are using reflect as current a situation as possible. 

 

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and SEMCOG, are administering a travel survey program called MI Travel Counts. MDOT and SEMCOG have contracted with Westat, a nationally recognized survey research firm, to conduct the survey. We want you to be aware of the program and its benefits to transportation in Michigan.

 

The MI Travel Counts survey results will give us a better understanding of why people travel and how they plan their daily activities. From this, we can better forecast future trends and meet Southeast Michigan’s changing travel needs. The information gained from the survey will also be used to better identify projects that improve access to jobs, schools, healthcare, and other important daily activities.

 

MiTravelCounts

 

So, how is this going to work? Randomly selected Michigan households will be contacted by U.S. mail and invited to participate in the survey by recording and then reporting their travel activities for one day. A small group of households will also be asked to participate in a Global Positioning System (GPS) survey.

 

It is our hope that you will accept and welcome this invitation if you are contacted. If you have any concerns, please contact me at SEMCOG. Please know that the information you provide is confidential and secure, as required by law.

 

Right now, a pilot survey is underway to make sure the survey instrument and processes work well. We’ll conduct surveys in April and in September. Invitation letters will be sent a month earlier.

 

More information will be coming, so please keep looking on the SEMCOG website – www.semcog.org – for regular updates.

 

 
Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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More Progress

 Permanent link

 

February 3, 2015 - One of the last events I attended in 2014 was the grand opening of the John D. Dingell Transit Center in Dearborn, Michigan. I was pleased to be invited to the opening by Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly. 

Mayor O’Reilly celebrated a milestone in a larger vision for passenger rail options at the grand opening ceremony December 15 at the City of Dearborn’s intermodal passenger rail station, dedicated in honor of retiring Congressman John Dingell.

The station was funded by $28.2 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It has free parking, free Wi-Fi, bike racks, and an adjacent Tim Hortons restaurant. The station is staffed and operated by Amtrak.

 

Train station exterior

 

Six daily Wolverine Service trains sponsored by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) run daily through Dearborn. Nearly 79,000 Amtrak passengers used the former station in the last year, making it the busiest in Metro Detroit. More intercity passenger traffic is expected as MDOT’s accelerated rail project continues between Pontiac and Chicago, via Dearborn.

 

The station is also an important component in the proposed commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. In addition, it is an economic driver for Dearborn as it is anticipated to bring more business to the city and will hopefully inspire additional development in the downtown area.

 

The station’s proximity to the Henry Ford on the south side of Michigan Avenue and the Rouge River Gateway Trail on the north side should prove popular to pedestrians and bicyclists, and provide easy access to the nearby University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College.

 

Through selection and use of environmentally friendly materials and design solutions, the station also achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification. Sustainable features include a metal roof with solar collectors, energy-efficient lighting, and geothermal heating and cooling.

 

So, a new station in Troy opened earlier this year and Ann Arbor is exploring the idea of building a new station as well. MDOT is exploring construction of a replacement station for the existing New Center station in Detroit. MDOT is also making track and safety improvements in the corridor. This bodes well for increased train service in the near future and should support both additional service to Chicago as well as the proposed An Arbor-Detroit commuter service.

Congrats to Dearborn for a job well done! The next time you’re in Dearborn, stop in and see it!

 

 
Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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