Inactive and active railways run from Traverse City and Petoskey to all their surrounding communities. There is a line from Traverse City through Interlochen, Benzonia and Beulah to Manistee. There is a line to Cadillac through Kingsley, Buckley and Mesick. There is a line to Williamsburg that could be extended to Kalkaska, which can already be reached through Cadillac. Lines to Suttons Bay, Empire, Elk Rapids and beyond would need to be rebuilt, but not reacquired. From Petoskey, all of Charlevoix, Boyne City, Walloon Lake, Alanson and Harbor Springs could be served. Traverse City and Petoskey could sprout fingers -- hands of transit that would hold the entire region together in the years to come.
Currently, the active railways in Northern Michigan are used for freight. The rails would need improvement to accommodate passenger service, and the biggest problem is of course: how to pay for it? Currently MDOT (the Michigan Department of Transportation) spends an average of $10-$12 million every year on the six-county Grand Traverse region for road improvements alone. An additional $4 million is spent on maintenance, yearly. And half a million dollars is appropriated every year for what are deemed special projects.
Railways should be maintained by the government as well, but are the responsibility of the generally unassisted train companies even though the State of Michigan owns the tracks. This while roads are maintained by the government, which also subsidizes car companies.
With MDOTs resources, improving railways and building new railways could be paid for if voters are willing to allow road improvements to slow and not by much. It would come down to a vote. Yet MDOT is moving towards selling its railway property. Senator Jason Allen and a committee at the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce are working to keep these rights-of-way intact. Show them your support!
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, quoted in The Detroit News, wants Michigan to be the most nimble and business-sensitive state in the nation without sacrificing our environment. That is a heavy goal. She wants to revitalize urban areas, create high tech jobs and reverse the flight of young well-educated workers [who want to see] affordable housing and family oriented walk-able neighborhoods, job opportunities and solid public schools, better local stores and services, scenic beauty and a sense of community.
If Granholm wants to create high tech jobs, then the field of railway locomotion is just what shes looking for. Engineers will be needed to fix the track from Traverse City to Williamsburg. Clever negotiators and appropriators will be needed to continue that line to Kalkaska. Researchers will wanted to find cheaper forms of energy. Thousands of jobs would be created solely in the transportation industry.
According to MDOTs traffic counts, approximately 43,600 cars commute into Traverse City every day, from an average distance of 16.8 miles. That‘s an approximate total of 732,480 miles traveled twice every day. Using an average of 20 miles per gallon, Traverse Citys commuters are burning 36,624 gallons twice
every day. That‘s $220,000 spent on fuel consumption alone, every single day, by the regions citizens. Oil is being pumped from the scenic land around the old northern railways, and nearly $100 million is spent every year to buy it back.
If a station served Northwestern Michigan College, and only half of its students and faculty decided to commute by train (and if a train existed that charged just 15 cents per mile), then $2,000 could be made every day by that station alone. If just 10 percent of the 43,600 cars that MDOT claims enter T.C. every day, were emptied into passenger rail cars (assuming each commuter previously drove alone) then the railways could bring in almost $11,000 per day. Thats almost $4 million per year.
Its simple currently automobiles plague society. City streets are filled with noise and pollution. An entire income can be spent on gas and insurance, registration and maintenance. Inflation rises when cars are bought on credit. Drunk and ill-prepared drivers are killed every day. And now, as gas prices rise, the future may leave Northern Michigan unprepared to adapt.
That‘s one alternative. Or, we can lead the way into this new era of American conservation and community with a project to implement a light rail system in the region.
Jack Bileaux is a student at Northwestern Michigan College who‘s interested in light rail transit.