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Transportation Nation

Wariness about spending on transportation and infrastructure accompanies voters to the polls

Monday, November 01, 2010

Denver Poster on Fare Hikes

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  It's been a rough election season out there.  Unless you've crawled into a cave for the last three months, you know the airwaves have been flooded with ads calling candidates everything from thieves to hooligans to rogues and everything in between.   But the sour voter mood isn't just about advertisements -- it's about reduced circumstances, drastic cuts in local government services, higher taxes and fees, fewer jobs, and dramatically higher health care costs -- despite  health care reform and an $800 billion stimulus bill.

Or as one Florida election volunteer Marcia told me in a largely African American neighborhood in Tampa last week:  "People are disappointed," she said. "They thought they were going to have this magic wand that I'm going to save my home because we have Obama as President.  And I'm going to have a job because we have Obama as President."   But then, people lost their jobs, and they lost their homes.

"Where's the change?" retired Hoovers vacuum worker Alice Prestier asked me in Canton, Ohio.  Or, more bitterly, as one Colorado contractor told me in Loveland, Colorado:   “I don’t need to spend $2,000 to support every illegal f*****g Mexican in this country. Nor do I need to keep busting my ass for this government. You know, my son can’t ride the bus to school anymore.  He’s got to walk two miles to school, explain that to me!  You know, why does education have to go, but yet we can support illegals, we can piss money away on stuff that doesn’t’ matter, a health care plan that will never work?"

All of which has created a wary public, seemingly unwilling to spend on big transit projects like the ARC tunnel, high speed rail, or even roads.    Even though the President has bracketed this campaign season with a call for $50 billion in additional spending on roads, rails, and airports and the distribution, last week, of some $2.5 billion in high speed rail grants, kitchen-table cut backs have spilled over into an attitude about government spending.  Where once voters seemed to have faith that large infrastructure projects would create jobs, both in the long and short terms, they now worry that worthy as projects may be, there simply isn't enough money to spend on things like new transit tunnels, high speed rail systems, or even roads.

The Democratic Senate candidate in Colorado, Michael Bennet, was an early defector from the Obama Labor Day plan, and voters -- Republicans, Democrats --  told me that was "about right."

“It should all be fixed,” Debbie Horoschock told me at the Wilkes-Barre farmers market in late September" of the president’s proposal to spend money fixing rail, roads, and airports. So she thinks that would be a good thing to spend money on? “No. But they should be fixed.” How are they going to be fixed without money? “I don’t know how they are going to be fixed without money. But we need money to fix the damn roads.”

High speed rail, actually pilloried by some candidates (Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio) gets a lot more raised eyebrows.  "They just shouldn't be spending on that project," one Ohio retiree  in downtown Canton who wouldn't give her name told me.  Even if that meant losing hundreds of millions of federal money coming straight to this depressed area?  "Even so."

There are some bright spots for those who support big transit projects.  In Colorado, the Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, John Hickenlooper, who made his bones pushing a sales tax for transit when he first became Mayor of Denver, in 2004, is leading in most polls, and his support of a sales tax is drawing some crossover support. And in Tampa, a similar measure is intriguing some voters who are supporting Marco Rubio, the Tea Party-backed candidate for U.S. Senate.  The logic seems to be in how the tax is paid--it's a pay-as-you-go tax, not a large, one-time, acquisition of debt, much disfavored this election year.

Transportation Nation has been out in swing counties this election season. What we've learned about how America wants to build its future has been surprising, enlightening, sometimes harsh, and always deeply, deeply educational.  Everyone looking at how government should address these questions in the next Congress should be reading these posts.  In order of our visits:

Luzerne County, Pennsylvania

Weld County, Colorado and Jefferson County, Colorado

Stark County, Ohio

Jackson County, Michigan

Hillsborough County, Florida

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The Takeaway

Obama Administration Announces Big Spending Package on Transportation

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's expected announcement of billions of dollars in federal grants for high speed rail today is beginning on a sour note. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced yesterday that he is stopping construction of an $8.4 billion Hudson River rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York. Citing billions of dollars of expected cost overruns, Christie says his "decision is final." This comes after LaHood made a personal appeal to Christie, and negotiations between the Obama and Christie administrations.

With Republicans running against President Obama's stimulus, an issue that's resonated with voters, LaHood's announcement comes at a questionable time. There will be events in Iowa, Michigan, California. There's also money for Connecticut and Florida. These are all states with close races. How is this going to affect the midterm elections?

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Transportation Nation

Obama's $2.5 Billion High Speed Rail Spending for Election Week

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Less than a week ahead of elections around the country, Congressmen are happily announcing money their states are getting for high speed rail. Official allocations will take place tomorrow.  California is getting nearly a billion dollars, Florida just over $800 million while several smaller projects in the Midwest for "higher speed" rail will also get funding, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Monday we reported on the money going to Florida and New England for intercity connections. Today local officials released more funding details for the Midwest and West Coast in what seems like a pre-election day affirmation of Presidential support for high-speed rail around the nation.

This week's $2.5 billion in grant announcements are not stimulus funds. They are the part of the FY2010 yearly allocations from the DOT and the Federal Railway Administration, (which has quite a handy website with plenty of charts, data, and interactive maps). The bulk of the allocations went to two of the largest states, California and Florida, receiving $900 and $800 million respectively.

The largest share of funding in the Midwest--$230 million-- goes to Iowa and Illinois for enhanced Amtrak service from Chicago to Iowa City. The Amtrak line from Chicago to Detroit received $150 million to increase its current speed to 110 mph--not quite the 220 mph that denotes most HSR, but certainly "higher speed" rail than the existing top speeds under 80 mph.

The Obama administration isn't funding every request though. They declined to give $8 million requested for a study and design of a potential Chicago-to-St. Louis bullet train.

In addition to this $2.5 billion for HSR this year,  there is still a largely unspent pot of $700+ billion in stimulus money dedicated to high speed rail. Of the $8 billion in stimulus money allocated for HSR,  just $871 million has been obligated.

Here's an updated list of all the projects receiving federal money, both stimulus funds as well as yearly allocations.

(Thanks to MidwestHSR for the tip on some of this.)

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It's A Free Country ®

What Happens When Government Bailouts Work?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WNYC

Let's do a thought experiment. Let's say that one of the last governors of New York — David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer, George Pataki, or Mario Cuomo — actually had saved an industry. Let's say they'd used the power of the state's purse to keep a company from failing, turned it around, and could reasonably have claimed to have saved a million jobs. Would that have helped either party in upstate New York, where jobs have been hemmoraging for decades? A look at Michigan's electoral situation shows just how hard it is to make that argument, particularly for Democrats.

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The Takeaway

Districts in Play: Michigan and the 7th District

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

With two weeks to go until the mid-term elections, we continue our coverage of tight congressional and gubernatorial races from around the country with a look at races in Michigan. 

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The Takeaway

Race and the 'Flint Serial Killer'

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Police believe there is a serial killer on the loose in the vicinity of Flint, Michigan. Law enforcement officials say they believe the killer to be responsible for the deaths of five men as well as attacks on more than a dozen others. All but two of the attacker's victims were black, but authorities in Michigan are not saying the motives of the killer are racial. The attacker may also be involved in a spate of recent attacks in Virginia and Ohio.

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Transportation Nation

President Drives A Volt

Friday, July 30, 2010

From the White House Press Pool:

Hamtramck, Mich.
GM plant
1:15 pm

Your pooler will send Chrysler plant report shortly but breaking news from second stop is that POTUS just drove  (after consultations w Secret Service and Robert Gibbs' voiced hope that the electric Volt had an airbag)

He stepped excitedly into a Black Chevy Volt, behind the wheel, buckled himself in and haltingly drove perhaps 10 feet at a crawling speed. "Pretty smooth," he concluded.

Presidents don't get to drive themselves anywhere, and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed this was a highly unusual though not unprecedented opportunity for Obama.

Gibbs said he believes the last time Obama drove was 3-4 months ago, when he drove a Dodge Charger at a Secret Service training facility (off-camera and hopefully much faster).

BTW: The Volt Will Cost $41,000 .  Times Op-Ed Calls it "GE's Electric Lemon."

--Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation

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Transportation Nation

Obama in Michigan: EV Battery Costs to Drop 70 percent

Thursday, July 15, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Speaking at a ribbon cutting for an electric vehicle battery plant in Holland, MI, today, President Barack Obama said a major barriers to entry for EV consumers -- battery costs -- are about to drop.

From his remarks:

"For example, the workers at this plant, already slated to produce batteries for the new Chevy Volt, learned the other day that they will also be supplying batteries for the new electric Ford Focus as soon as this operation gears up. That means that by 2012, the batteries will be manufactured in Holland, Michigan, instead of South Korea. So when you buy one of these vehicles, the battery could be stamped “Made in America” – just like the car.

And here’s another benefit. Because of advances in the manufacture of these batteries, their costs are expected to come down by nearly 70 percent in the next few years, which will make electric and hybrid cars and trucks more affordable for more Americans. And that, too, will mean more jobs – not to mention less dependence on oil."

Here's the White House Report on EV Batteries and the Recovery Act.

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Transportation Nation

Transportation Spending is Target of Waste Watchdogs

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)  The enemies of pork barrel spending are taking aim at the latest transportation funding bill. That’s despite the fact that earmarks in the bill are lower than ever.

Spending watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste says the Fiscal 2011 appropriations bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development is carrying 459 pet projects as it makes its way to the House floor later this summer.

Those earmarks, including $500,000 for a solar-powered Berkeley, Calif., ferry service championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,

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The Takeaway

Remembering Baseball's Ernie Harwell

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Baseball is a tongue-tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown." - Ernie Harwell at his National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (August 2, 1981)

Before I start writing about Ernie Harwell, I feel the need to again to say that I am not a native of Michigan.  Harwell wasn't either; he was born in Atlanta and worked as a paperboy there, even delivering the daily rag to novelist Margaret Mitchell.  It was his southern roots that give Harwell that distinctive twang in his voice, something he never lost through 55 years of calling baseball games.  But by the time he died this week, he had two hometowns: Atlanta by right of birth and Detroit by bonds of love and true loyalty.

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The Takeaway

Morris the Mammoth Discovered in Mich. Golf Course

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A story 11,000 years in the making. The fossil remains of a mammoth were discovered in the golf course of Morrison Lake Country Club. Dixie Riley owns the country club in Saranac, Mich., and tells us the story.

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The Takeaway

Obama to Deliver University of Michigan Commencement Speech

Friday, April 30, 2010

President Obama will deliver the commencement speech at the University of Michigan tomorrow. The university expects a majority of the students to attend along with 80,000 friends and family members. And as Jake Smilovitz, editor in chief of the student-run paper, tells us that expectations run high, considering the school's history of ground-breaking presidential speeches. Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and John F. Kennedy have all taken the stage at U of M.

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    The Takeaway

    The Rise of Extremism in the US

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    The FBI arrested nine members of a group called Hutaree this past weekend. According to officials, the group planned to wage an all-out war to bring down the U.S. government.  Authorities said Hutaree's initial plan was to kill a law enforcement official and then plant IEDs to kill more officials who attended the funeral. If you're thinking this is a militant Islamist group, you're dead wrong: Hutaree is a Christian militia group based in Michigan. Hutaree's philosophy, stated on their website, reads, in part, that they are "preparing for the end time battles."

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    The Takeaway

    Michigan Muslims Rally Against Terrorism

    Friday, January 08, 2010

    If you were with us Christmas week, you might have heard us talk to Majed Moughni, an attorney in Dearborn, Mich. Moughni has organized a rally later today for fellow Muslims to speak out against terrorism; he began organizing after the failed Christmas Day attack aboard a Detroit-bound jet.

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    The Takeaway

    One Big Fish Problem Swimming for the Great Lakes

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    [Asian carp showing their leaping ability in a pool in the Mississippi River]

    There's a fight brewing with a specific fish breed in the Great Lakes region. The invasive Asian carp is ravaging the aquatic food chain for native fish, and making their way up the Mississippi toward the Great Lakes. Millions have been spent already on fencing and barriers to keep the carp from making it to open waters, but the measures appears to be failing. Ken DeBeaussaert, director of the Office of Great Lakes for Michigan, tells us about the impact this foreign species is having on domestic waterways.

     

     

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    The Takeaway

    Deep Cuts: School Program Cuts in Michigan

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Hundreds gathered at Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing, Mich., yesterday to protest budget cuts to school programs. To help explain what's going on right now in Michigan, we're joined by Craig Fahle from WDET in Detroit, where he hosts the talk show “Detroit Today.” Also with us is Casey Christensen, a first-grade teacher in Roseville, Mich. It's part of our week-long series on the impact of state budget cuts.

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    The Takeaway

    FBI Reaches Out to Imams After Deadly Detroit Raid

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    The FBI is reaching out to local imams and community leaders in Detroit after the leader of a radical Islamic group was killed in an FBI raid late Wednesday night. We discuss local reactions and the charges filed against others targeted in the raid with Craig Fahle, host of WDET's Detroit Today, and Victor Begg, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan.

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    Studio 360

    Grand Rapids Idol

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    At this fall's ArtPrize -- the massive visual arts contest in Grand Rapids, Michigan -- 37,000 members of the public voted for their favorite work. A 19-foot-wide oil painting, "Open Water no. 24," beat out more than 1,200 entries. Kurt spoke to winner Ran Ortner about ...

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    The Takeaway

    Whose Detroit Are We Talking About?

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    The national media has given prominent coverage to the woes of the Motor City. For example, Time recently embedded journalists in the city for over a year for its ambitious "Assignment Detroit" project. But while the national attention is (mostly) appreciated, insiders' eyes may turn out to be more valuable when it comes to looking for solutions to the city's troubles. Reporters at Detroit's public radio station, WDET, are crowd-sourcing plans for Detroit's recovery. They have been asking Detroit residents for their own voices and viewpoints in order to come up with plans to fix it. We find out more about the project from WDET news director Jerome Vaughn.

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    Studio 360

    Rick DeVos

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    This October, one lucky artist will win the top award at the ArtPrize contest in Grand Rapids, Michigan: $250,0000. Rick De Vos, grandson of the founder of Amway, created the competition and donated the prize money. He tells Kurt why he wanted to bring ...

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