It’s time to consider providing passenger rail service between Traverse City and the nearby community of Williamsburg as a start toward reviving train travel in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, a nonprofit advocacy group says.
The Michigan Land Use Institute said that using the 11-mile stretch of rail could boost tourism and development in the area.
“It’s a low-cost way to add capacity to our existing transportation network while supporting development along the track at the same time,” said James Bruckbauer, a transportation policy specialist with the institute and author of the report.
Such a passenger rail line could be a first step toward restoring Traverse City’s passenger rail connection to the rest of the state, Bruckbauer said.
It would cost much less to upgrade the track than to reconstruct a 1.5-mile section of U.S. 31, the highway linking Traverse City and Williamsburg, according to the report.
“While year-round daily commuter trains might be too expensive for now, a seasonal tourist-shuttle could be a low-cost, achievable first step,” the institute said in a statement. “The estimated cost to improve the tracks — less than $2 million — is modest when compared to the $9 million cost to reconstruct just 1.5 miles of U.S. 31,” the institute said.
Amtrak now operates passenger rail service in Michigan, but the routes are all in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. The lines run between Chicago and Grand Rapids, Detroit and Port Huron.
The National Association of Realtors helped fund the report, and the association’s regional director said the passenger train service could aid the area’s economy.
“We’ve got plenty of evidence that rail projects can have a very positive impact on neighborhood development,” Kim Pontius, executive director of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors, said in a statement. “We need to think of transportation solutions other than the automobile. This project, if realized, may prove to be a great way to test the thesis.”
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