City officials say Dearborn is nearing closure on a federal grant that will put into motion a major part of the city’s efforts to revamp itself economically: opening a new train station.
Part of the $40 million in stimulus funds promised to the state in 2010, the city expects to secure the long-awaited funding in March, says Economic and Community Development Director Barry Murray.
“We’re very close to getting the grant,” he said in late January. “We’re just going through some things with the federal government and the state Department of Transportation. We’re working through it, but it has taken longer than we thought. Then we’ve got two years to build it.”
But the estimated $30 million project, Murray and other city officials insist, will be much more than just an Amtrak port into and out of the city.
Currently, Dearborn’s Amtrak station—located behind the and —services passengers on the Pontiac/Chicago route.
According to Murray, the proposed station will have far greater abilities in terms of what it provides to travelers looking to get around the state and the region.
For example, it will be a drop-off point for SMART and Detroit Department of Transportation buses, “so it’s a transfer point to hook up with the rail,” Murray explained. “Shuttles will come here from major employers—, U of M, Ford. The hotels would be coming here. And even at the (), they’re going to provide a shuttle to run their students back and forth.”
More uses means more riders. This piggybacks on current trends, which show that more and more Michigan residents are using Amtrak trains to get around.
According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, “Ridership and revenue soared on Michigan's three Amtrak routes during the first quarter of fiscal year 2011. The strong performance indicates that more passengers are becoming aware of the convenience and good value of rail travel.”
First-quarter statistics for 2010-2011 (October-December) show that 130,683 passengers rode Amtrak Wolverine service trains on the Pontiac/Detroit-Chicago corridor, an increase of 22.7 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to MDOT. Ticket revenue was up by more than 26 percent to $4,949,889.
With Dearborn looking to dig itself out of a $20 million budget deficit, it’s a good sign of things to come.
At his , Mayor Jack O’Reilly named the new station as one the keys to making Dearborn a more economically viable, vibrant and cool community.
“It’s not a matter of being static … of getting into that structural position of saying we’ve now eliminated that $20 million gap structurally between our revenues and expenditures,” he said of the train station and other initiatives, such as UM-Dearborn student housing and a convention center at Fairlane. “We also have to look at investments that are going to propel us forward and attract new investment and increase everyone’s property value.”
According to Murray, the greatest benefits from the new train station will come not just from an added capacity to move travelers through the city, but to make Dearborn a destination on their trip. Much of this benefit comes from the proposed location, which would be off of Michigan Avenue and Elm Street, just east of downtown west Dearborn.
The proposed station, he said, will encompass the old Greenfield Village station, and include walkways to , as well as to UM-Dearborn and . The latter of the two is more tentatively planned, but would ultimately put a pedestrian bridge across Michigan Avenue, connecting to the trail that runs from Brady Street to both campuses.
More good news for patrons of the university: The new station will also include commuter trains, meaning that faculty and students would have the ability to travel back and forth between the main campus in Ann Arbor.
“Now you’ve got a connection between Ann Arbor and Dearborn for all U of M students,” Murray said. “They can take classes in both places, and you’ve got faculty going back and forth. To me, there are a lot of synergies there that have got the university and all of us pretty excited.”
And the overarching goal of the station is to draw the two halves of the city together through a method known as Transit-Oriented Development, which focuses on creating more vibrant, walkable communities throughout the country.
“What TODs are is the same concept we have for west downtown,” Murray explained. “Build more density, make it more walkable and people will want to be close to the transit center.”
And making the city more livable, walkable and inviting through initiatives like student housing, the convention center and the railway station, Murray said, could be what saves Dearborn’s economy.
“This … is a real cornerstone of our economic development program,” he said, “because those are the kinds of things that are going to improve quality of life and make this an attractive city to young professionals, people who want to raise their families here, and people who are looking for a cool place to live.”