Letter to the Editor: 'The Case for the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center'
Troy Chamber of Commerce Director William Cowger shares why he believes the proposed transit center is necessary.
The Troy Regional Transit Center is an exciting undertaking that has been years in the making. It does not stand by itself; it is part of a regional plan to improve mobility in southeast Michigan, and has been under development since 1999. I became a fan of this project when I studied urban planning trends as part of the Troy Futures 2020 Strategic Plan.
The first phase of the plan highlights the benefits of rail service versus flying, and nearly justifies the project all on its own. Currently, few people take the train to Chicago and beyond because of poor service. There is a lack of parking at the current Birmingham platform, leaving current travelers to park on the street.
The absence of any kind of enclosed heated shelter on the platform leaves one exposed to the elements. In bad weather, one must wait in the car with no indication of when the train is arriving. The service runs on an erratic 5+hr schedule that often extends to 7-9 hours because freight trains have priority on the sections with a single track. It is clear that improved facilities and service will benefit all current travelers and entice new ones.
As of today, Michigan has received a grant to add the second track and to upgrade all tracks to speeds of 110 MPH as exists from Kalamazoo to Chicago. Who wouldn’t take the train if you could get to Chicago in 4.5 hours consistently and have a comfortable station/terminal where you could wait for the train to arrive? One could buy a cup of coffee when waiting for the train to arrive, and while on board read a book or work on your laptop the whole way.
Compare this to driving an hour to Metro airport, the stress of having to be there at least an hour in advance only to be humiliated in security, spending an hour on the plane, and then an hour to get into the city after you arrive. Not only will these improved amenities be great for Troy citizens, but also for casual and business travelers from all along the Big Beaver/Metro Parkway corridor and points north. Many will gladly use this service and thereby support Troy businesses on the way.
Business people from Chicago and beyond will find Troy a direct destination which will help our local economy (hotels, restaurants, shopping, etc.) and provide enough additional passengers to improve the local taxi service. Revenues from a coffee shop, taxi service, an airport limo suburban hub, rental car agencies, bicycle rental, and a Smart hub could easily fund the operation of the center.
The relatively low ridership projections were done in 2008, before funding was available for improving the speed and consistency, and were based only on long distance rail service (not commuter). The projections might well be 3-4 times higher with a consistent faster service.
The second phase is a commuter service in which the Troy Transit Center is just a small but significant piece (not included in the justification for the project).
The light rail system between Detroit’s New Center and the Detroit River has been approved, along with the rail commuter service between Ann Arbor and the New Center. As that service expands in future years to Troy, local businesses can recruit employees from as far away as Ann Arbor.
Many have already stated that if needed, they will pay for special bus services to get their employees between the Transit Center and their businesses. Troy residents could then commute to Royal Oak, Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor for employment.
One of the biggest challenges that Troy has in recruiting businesses to relocate here is a lack of public transportation for their employees. Arriving in Detroit at the New Center station, commuting residents can take the light rail system down to the DMC, Quicken Loans, Compuware, GM and other Detroit based businesses.
The third phase would add a casual rail service for after-hour service that would benefit the entertainment venues. Imagine taking a low-cost taxi to the Transit Center, taking the train/light rail system to Royal Oak or Detroit for dinner and being able to have a responsible drink without worry of driving after.
Picture taking the system to a sports game, theater or other activity without worrying about where to park. Round-trip cost, including the taxi, could be less than parking in the city and include the luxury and freedom of not having to drive.
People will flock to live closer to the transit center, and businesses will invest in residential, commercial and retail properties in the area. The University of Michigan Urban Land Institute estimated that the total economic benefit will be on the order of 4-6 times the investment ($8.4M x 4 to 6= $33.6M to $50.4M).
What will this great opportunity cost us? Nothing! It’s free. Oh yes, we have paid a piece of the $8.4M in our federal taxes, but we have also paid a piece of the St. Louis, Portland, Seattle, Dallas and Phoenix mass transit systems over the past 15 years in the exact same way. Why not see some our tax dollars used in our own backyard?
Detroit is the only large city that has not created or added to a mass transit system during that time. The federal money is in Troy’s bank account expressly to be used for this project. If we turn it back, it will go to another city, further eroding our ability to compete with other major urban centers.
To turn the money down will be a willful act of placing personal ideology above the future of the city our officials were elected to serve.
Troy needs the Transit Center!
34-year resident of Troy
Director, Troy Chamber of Commerce (2007-current)
Director, Troy 2020 Futures (2005-2006)
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