Michigan Lawmakers Should Reject High-Speed Rail Proposal | Citizens Against Government Waste

Michigan Lawmakers Should Reject High-Speed Rail Proposal

The WasteWatcher

The Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee has agreed to approve what will undoubtedly be a complete waste of money to discuss the development of high-speed rail in the state.  Given the condition of the state’s crumbling roads, which Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) has been promising to fix since her first election campaign in 2018, the committee is going way off track with the inclusion $100 million in the Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) fiscal year 2023-2024 budget “to encourage high speed rail development.”  

The money is equal to 14 percent of the proposed increase for MDOT.  Notably, the House of Representative’s MDOT budget does not include any money to promote or study high speed rail.

The funding was inserted by state Sen. Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe).  If completed, a high-speed rail project in Michigan would be only the second high-speed rail route in the United States, after Amtrak’s Acela route between Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. 

While there is a debate over whether the Acela line, at least from New York to Boston and New York to Washington, D.C., is profitable by covering operating costs but not necessarily capital costs, it is still the only line for which that debate can even occur, as high-speed rail projects have proven to be money pits for the states.  California has spent the past 15 years trying to construct a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The original estimated cost was $33 billion, but it has now ballooned to $128 billion.  Not a single line of the project has been completed, and the latest estimate for just a 171-mile stretch of the line in the Central Valley is $35 billion, or $2 billion more than the initial estimate for the entire 500-mile system. 

In her defense of the Michigan project, Sen. Klinefelt argued that “the region desperately needs” high-speed rail to spur economic development and growth, which she said is part of “any thriving metro area.”  But the only major American cities that have access to high-speed rail are in the Acela corridor, which includes Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.  And Michigan does not have a series of large, closely clustered cities that make high-speed rail worth considering.  The state’s population of 10 million is 1.5 million less than the combined population of 11.5 million of the five major cities on the Acela line, and the 441-mile distance between Boston and Washington, D.C. is 134 miles less than the 575-mile distance between the northernmost city of Hancock and the southernmost city of Camden in Michigan.

Since 2020, Michigan has lost 43,000 residents to other states with the counties surrounding Detroit seeing the largest population decline.  Betting on high-speed rail to reverse population decline is a losing proposition.  The top reasons for moving from one state to another include jobs, family relationships, cost of living, retirement, better weather, and lower taxes.  Transportation, let alone a high-speed rail system that may or may not be built sometime in the next decade, is not on anyone’s list.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposal does not detail which parts of the state would get high-speed rail service, among the proposals offered to legislators by the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers is the construction of new rail lines connecting Ann Arbor to Traverse City and Petoskey.  While such a proposal may benefit help some of those looking to escape to the shores of Lake Michigan for a vacation, much like the high-speed rail proposal itself, that plan would not help Michigan families and businesses continue to recover from the pandemic or bring lost jobs back to the state.

If the $100 million high-speed rail plan passes the Senate, the House of Representatives must stand firm in its decision not to include any high-speed rail funding in negotiations over the final version of the budget.  Spending 14 percent of the proposed MDOT budget increase to “start a conversation” is poor governance.  Instead of dumping taxpayer funds into trains to nowhere, lawmakers in Lansing should focus on what their constituents really need. Maybe they can then finally fulfill Gov. Whitmer’s promise to “fix the damn roads.”

Sign Up For Email Updates

Optional Member Code