Now that the Troy City Council has made the controversial decision to proceed with the scaled down $6.3M transit center, it’s time to support them in further value engineering of the project.
The footbridge could be eliminated completely, since freight trains only take about five minutes to pass by. This would be a $1.6M savings. I’ve lived within a mile of the tracks for 20+ years and you can tell the northbound trains by the sound of the engines laboring up the grade. I’ve never seen one stopped.
Canadian National confirmed by email that there are about ten freight trains per day. Assuming half run on the east tracks, this means the east track would be blocked by a train five times a day for five minutes. However, as a matter of standard practice and for safety reasons, CN does not allow grade crossings at new passenger stations.
People will be forced to take the bridge; there will be no possibility to cross the tracks on foot to bypass the bridge. If people had the option, 90% would just walk across the tracks if no train was coming rather than take the time to go up and over on the bridge.
The objective is to get passengers safely from the station to the platform. Currently 66 people per day use the existing Birmingham station. Annual payments on this $1.6M bridge will be $115,000, which works out to $4.78 per passenger. That would be nearly a $50 per passenger subsidy if they had the option to bypass the bridge and only 10% used it!
This is really about liability and lawsuits, not public safety, since grade crossings can be made safe for pedestrians and cars. Unfortunately we live in a litigious society with lawyers who are happy to sue everyone involved in a tragic accident. So I can understand CN's policy; one lawsuit and the bad publicity from it could easily eclipse the cost of the bridge, which is being funded by the U.S. government anyway.
It would also be foolish for the city of Troy to allow a grade crossing. A few years ago plaintiff attorneys filed a suit against the road commission, the railroad and everyone else they could think of on behalf of a drunk driver who slammed into the side of a freight train with red lights flashing at a grade crossing.
So to defend against possible lawsuits, taxpayers must pay for an unnecessary bridge to protect people from themselves. Anyone who has stood within ten feet of a freight train moves back from the fear; it’s not like sitting in a car waiting for the train to go by.
Extra costs for construction projects pale in comparison to medical costs, which are skyrocketing from rising malpractice insurance and the extra tests that are ordered to guard against possible lawsuits.
Plaintiff lawyers serve a useful purpose – compensation for people who could not afford to sue a large company. But the mindset that is encouraged is not good: I had a bad outcome, therefore someone should pay. Can we as a society afford the hidden tax and does this way of thinking enrich us? Better to have the attitude of Kimberly Anne Gillary’s family, who started a foundation to get AEDs in Michigan high schools after her death in 2000 from sudden cardiac arrest. They are doing something positive with their grief and have donated AEDs to over 500 schools in her memory.
Also, it would be nice to have a break in the fence for bicycle and pedestrian access from Birmingham. If people wanted to rent bikes, it would be easier for the nearby bike shop (1.2 miles away from the current station) to deliver bicycles there than to go all the way around to the less bike-friendly Troy side. Then people could choose to ride either in Birmingham or Troy. Passengers could also be dropped off there. Please see the attached file for an aerial view of both sites and the location of the bike shop.
The transit center is frustrating because it does nothing to improve the bus or train service. The only things added are a warm 2,000-square-foot building for people to wait in, which will sit empty all weekend when no buses are running, a footbridge with elevators to gather dust and be patrolled by police, and profits for the construction companies with jobs for their workers for a few years. Then the U.S. taxpayers pay $450,000 per year for the rest of the 30 year mortgage at 4%.
I hope the Troy Chamber of Commerce agreement will fund the footbridge and transit center roof replacement in 20 years so Troy taxpayers won’t have to issue bonds then. The saddest part is that the council majority ignored the proposal to upgrade the existing Birmingham station, which could have been done at no cost to taxpayers. And $115,000 per year, the annual cost of the footbridge alone, could have funded a shuttle bus from a remote parking lot at Kmart’s vacant headquarters if demand ever exceeded the 20 sites at the existing station.
Perhaps my name for Troy’s iconic bridge should be lengthened: Troy’s Monument to Big Government and the Trial Lawyers.