Gov. Jennifer Granholm remains upbeat in her efforts to lead Michigan.
This past Wednesday, following a meeting at the White House, she got the ears of Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "If the U.S. is going to make a long-term commitment to high-speed rail, they're going to need someone to build cars," she remarked to the Associated Press. "I really wanted to put in a plug...for us to make the cars."
Good thinking, Governor. For more then a century, Michigan has proved to the world that it knows how to manufacture automobiles. It's not building and selling as many these days, but there's no reason why the industry couldn't gear up and re-tool to make another transportation-related product.
Granholm based her pitch to Biden and LaHood on the presumption that the first phase of the proposal connecting Detroit and Chicago via high-speed rail is likely to receive approval from the federal DOT when it begins awarding competitive grant money in September. "Because the engineering work has all been done, it puts us in a good position to be able to get some of that first funding," she said.
In this space earlier this spring, we commented favorably on the Obama administration's plan to upgrade a 43-mile rail stretch between Kalamazoo and Niles. The improvements would enable the speed of passenger trains along that section to increase to 110 mph from 95 mph.
Funding for the Kalamazoo-Niles project, which could be completed by the end of this year, would come from $8 billion in federal stimulus money that Obama said will be aimed at improving high-speed rail corridors nationwide.
The area project, of course, is a tiny part of a bigger picture. Granholm pointed out that a high-speed rail corridor linking Detroit and Pontiac to Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and St. Louis will spur job creation and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
Kirk T. Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, is a strong supporter of enhanced passenger rail travel. In a recent article that he wrote, Steudle pointed out that the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) was created by nine states in the mid-1990s. The effort has evolved into a 3,000-mile system blueprint that the states are slowly implementing and has since grown to become a well-established, 3,000-mile system plan.
The system, Steudle said, is predicated on three needs: 110-mile-per-hour service, significantly increased frequencies and what are being called "next generation" trains that will bring reduced travel times, more reliable service, and more service-focused mobility options to travelers.
We're looking at a tall order, but one that can be filled. Given the uncertainties of gasoline prices, which are now approaching $3 a gallon, expanded and improved passenger rail travel for motorists continues to make sense.
What else makes sense is that Michigan becomes the state that helps fill the order.