The back-and-forth fight over a new intermodal transit center in Troy MI has turned up interesting information about the federal stimulus grant program (formally known as ARRA, the American Recovery and Relief Act). It also contains lessons on how to combat Luddites who oppose public transportation.
In 2009, the Congress passed the ARRA act, calling for major infrastructure improvements which would lead to high speed rail in the U.S. Shortly after enactment, the Federal Railroad Administration held a series of public conferences to explain the program and what it would do, and what it wouldn’t do. The FRA conference for the Midwest was held in Kansas City, MO. Key points were:
MARP warned several Michigan legislators that the practice of partial-year (which had ben done for several years, with supplemental funding when the first tranche was exhausted) funding for the Blue Water and Pere Marquette would not be acceptable to FRA. They went ahead with partial year funding anyway, and were stunned to find that FRA had denied all Michigan applications. The following year, the legislature passed a full-year appropriation, and Michigan was awarded money for new stations for Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Birmingham-Troy, plus funds to renovate and expand the Battle Creek station.
In November, 2011 Troy citizens elected a mayor and two council members who were elected on a pledge to stop all wasteful spending. Even though no City money would be involved in the construction of the Troy station, they voted to kill the project on the grounds that it was “wasteful” government spending. The grant for Troy has a stipulation that the project must be completed by October1, 2013. The council voted down the grant on December 19, 2011, the last apparent date for which approval would have allowed for completion by the 2013 deadline.
On January 17, 2012, the council reversed itself and approved the center.
What happened is a lesson for public transportation advocates everywhere.
The “antis” thought of themselves as Tea Party conservatives standing up against waste despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. NARP made a presentation to the council at the December meeting in which council members were given contact information for the mayors and Chambers of Commerce for every Amtrak city in Michigan, and were asked to contact those cities and find out if any of them regretted their decision. NARP also worked with Michelle hodges, President of the Troy Chamber, who was a tireless worker to unite support from the business community behind the project.
The city was surprised by the national attention it got (all negative) about their vote, and major employers advised publicly they had advised their corporate boards not to make further investment in such a backward-looking city.
If there’s one group Republicans listen to, it’s the business community. The Troy chamber had made a strong enough case that the swing vote said he would change his vote in the cost could be reduced, and the $30,000 annual maintenance budget were not to be borne by the city. After a series of sessions, the architectural firm reduced the project cost by $2.3 million; the Troy chamber made a commitment that it would find funding for the annual maintenance cost. It was also pointed out that the FRA would be friendly to a short extension of the completion deadline. With that, a special meeting was called, and the project was approved.
On December 19th, the Troy MI City Council rejected $8.5 million in federal funds to build a new intermodal station which would have included Amtrak and local transit. Mayor Janice Daniels and three allies on the council rejected the funds on the grounds that it would increase the federal deficit. The project had been going through the planning process for ten years, and the vote was to give a go-ahead,
In reaction, Magna International, one of the city's largest employers, said that it would recommend to its board that Magna not consider any expansion in Troy due to the city's anti-transit position.
The Mayor had embarrassed herself and the city earlier by making anti-gay remarks; many transit and gay groups promised to promote a recall effort as soon as possible. Under Michigan law, no recall could be undertaken until the mayor had been in office for at least six months, or May of 2012.
A committee of the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate amended spending legislation to direct $100 million to President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail program next year, a day after its transportation subcommittee omitted funding for the initiative.
Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mary Landrieu ofLouisiana, all Democrats like Obama, proposed reallocating funds earmarked for highway and transit projects at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting today. The amendment was adopted by voice vote, John Bray, a committee spokesman, said in an e-mail.
The appropriations subcommittee yesterday approved a bill that didn’t include money for the initiative, for which Obama has sought $8 billion in fiscal 2012. Of the $10.1 billion that Congress has directed to the program since 2009, $7.59 billion has been distributed. California is counting on federal funding as it builds a $43 billion system to run trains up to 220 miles per hour between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The money would “be very helpful to keep things on life support until Congress comes to its senses,” Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groupsaid in a telephone interview. U.S. PIRG is a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that supports government spending on high-speed rail service.
The proposal would be a placeholder and not enough to“really advance” high-speed rail, Thomas Hart, vice president for government affairs at the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association, said by telephone. The Washington-based group supports the creation of a national high-speed rail network.
The House transportation appropriations subcommittee also didn’t include money for the program in the bill it adopted Sept. 8. The full House Appropriations Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the measure.
Most of the money has gone to increasing train speeds on existing passenger routes, including $1.1 billion for Illinoisto provide 110 mile-per-hour service between Chicago and St. Louis. California, overseeing the only project to build a rail corridor dedicated to high-speed trains, has been awarded $3.5 billion from the program.
In February, Obama asked for $53 billion through 2018 to provide high-speed rail service to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.
The $447 billion jobs bill he submitted to lawmakers this month would devote $4 billion more to the initiative.