Letter to the Editor: Improve Current Birmingham Station – Don't Build New
"Perhaps by combining our best ideas and filtering out the bad arguments, we can find the best way forward."
The following letter was written by 23-year Troy resident Dale Murrish, who has worked in the transportation industry since 1979 at Caterpillar and GM. He’s a 26-year member of SAE, the professional society for mobility engineers. An avid bicyclist, he has ridden over 10,000 miles in Europe and America and traveled 4000 miles by train, bus, and ferryboat.
Good points have been made on both sides of the Troy transit center project, but also many bad ones. Perhaps by combining our best ideas and filtering out the bad arguments, we can find the best way forward.
The most important thing to remember is that all this $8.5M does is move the station; we are not improving the service to Chicago, which is supposed to happen either way. People with cars will still have other options, such as driving a half hour to Dearborn, cutting an hour off the train trip and $2-4 off the fare. They can also drive to Detroit or Ann Arbor and take a cheaper bus to Union Station. The rest of the Futures 2020 Plan will probably never happen. Part of Phase 2, a light rail line on Woodward, fell through recently because of the required $10M annual subsidy.
Comparing crowded cities like New York and Shanghai to Detroit is a bad argument. Thankfully, we don’t have their traffic and parking problems. Comparing roads to rail is also apples to oranges. People and freight are two different cargoes. The reason Eisenhower pushed for the interstate highway system was Germany’s autobahns, not their rail system. Amtrak has a terrible record of losing money, while inter-city bus companies make profits with the good highway system we now have.
One reason Europe has efficient trains is because their governments tax motor fuel heavily and subsidize them. There is little stomach here for even a 50 cent fuel tax to move us toward a market driven desire for fuel economy instead of the CAFÉ mandate, let alone doubling the price like in Europe.
The most disturbing argument is the idea that the money is already spent in Congress’ mind, and it will go to another state if we don’t use it. We should get our fair share of federal money coming back to us. This selfishness nearly torpedoed our country when the Constitution was being debated. As Ben Franklin said, “We will confounded by our own regional interests.”
We don’t actually start paying interest on the borrowed money until the dirt flies from the shovel-ready projects. Washington is supposedly looking for ways to cut the budget; what if we offer them $8.5M and say we’ll solve the problem ourselves?
Everything mentioned in the pro-transit center arguments could be accomplished by improving the current station. It could be spruced up with more comfortable seats, a heated building and a covered platform. A low cost display could show train ETAs and local students could paint the bare concrete. This would make an ideal Eagle Scout project, with donations from Telly’s and Bordine’s for the landscaping, Home Depot for building materials, etc. It could be done with volunteer labor at little or no cost and would set an example for other towns to have their own old-fashioned barn-raisings with sponsorships.
Someone can walk a quarter mile west, have a cup of coffee and sandwich at the Whistle Stop, and catch a bus on Maple Road. If there was enough demand, the route could be changed to swing past the station. People can call a cab to pick them up at the current station. If someone wanted to rent a bike, they could call a bike shop 1.2 or 3.5 miles away on the bike friendly Birmingham side. The nearest bike shop on the Troy side is 7 miles away in Sterling Heights.
In contrast, the new site behind Kohl’s in Troy is better suited for buses and cars and difficult for bicycles. Real estate is all about Location, Location and Location. The area around the Troy site is light industrial and much less attractive: take a look at the pictures and you’ll see the difference. Birmingham decided this project was a waste of money; why does Troy insist on going forward without them?
The only drawback of the current site is the lack of parking. There are only 20 parking spots, but three of them were open on Thanksgiving weekend, the busiest travel weekend of the year. Only 8 of 20 were used on a December Sunday afternoon. If ridership increases, maybe the companies on Troy’s side would allow overnight and weekend parking in certain parts of their lots (see photos).The Reserve and Chop House restaurants are both closed on Sundays and might allow parking Sunday-Tuesday on the top floor of their shared garage.
Birmingham has had a train station since 1839. The Chop House was Birmingham’s third train station from 1931-1978 and reopened as a restaurant in 1984, so they might partner to help build Birmingham’s fourth station building.
The transit center arguments have been nauseatingly Troy-centric. Like most metropolitan areas, the only way to tell you’ve crossed a border is the signs. While not quite as bad as Coleman Young insulting the suburbs, it’s not exactly neighborly of us to steal Birmingham’s station because they don’t want to spend $8.5M of our country’s tax money to move it a quarter mile to a less desirable location. If they were less polite, they would complain about losing a piece of their history.
Finally, this government project is way more expensive than necessary: $8.5M for a 2400 square foot building with $30,000 in annual upkeep. Compare that to a privately funded 16,500 square foot building in Pennsylvania for $6.8M. Troy is more than 8 times as much per square foot. To be fair, the Troy proposal has to delete the Birmingham side parking and add a footbridge, but the parking lot on the Troy side is already paved. $8M for a 2400 sq.ft house would leave money for gold-plated fixtures and chandeliers in the bathrooms except for the inherent waste in any government funded project.
Do we want to saddle our kids and grandkids with $610,000 annual payments* when we have an alternative that accomplishes our objectives at a fraction of the cost? With some creativity, we might be able to do it without any government funds. That would send a strong message to Washington and other cities to follow our example.
Troy Patch accepts letters to the editor. Please include your hometown when writing. Letters may be edited. Send to editor Jen Anesi at email@example.com.