In Interview, Snyder Backtracks on High-Speed Rail: A Decision is “Premature,” Governor Says

Getting chillier towards rebuilt rail? Michigan Daily
Getting chillier towards rebuilt rail? Michigan Daily

Governor Rick Snyder’s campaign stance for reinventing Michigan transportation was fairly unequivocal. “Rick supports the establishment of a proper mass transit backbone in the state,” read one of his position statements. “The move to high-speed rail and commuter trains to connect communities will require substantial investment and planning that must be part of a comprehensive vision to develop the state’s infrastructure.” Yes, there was the requisite part about not “overburdening taxpayers and businesses,” but Snyder seemed a rare pro-transit Republican in an era when prominent colleagues are sounding a call to arms against anything with rails.

Yet will Snyder have the fortitude to sustain that stance, when much of his party is opposed? He’s just taken office, so it’s too early to say for sure, but a new interviewsuggests he may be backtracking on his previous commitment to transit and, specifically, to high-speed rail. He now says it would be “premature” to support a high-speed rail system in Michigan without further analysis.

Noting opposition from the newly elected GOP governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, a reporter for asked Snyder for his stance on high-speed rail: “Do you see that as a viable transportation option for the state of Michigan in the future?” The question didn’t ask for any specifics or any commitment to funding. Nonetheless, Snyder apparently declined to give a yes-or-no response:

I want to look at it hard,” Snyder said. “In terms of giving a conclusion, that would be premature…Part of it is looking at the financial consequences. I put my value-for-money lens on that. We need to look at that and see how it works out. You have to look at it in terms of a longer-term horizon, just because of the nature of the infrastructure investment…I don’t take it off the table, and we’re going to look pretty hard at it when we have the opportunity.” Read the full interview here.

Looking at transportation investments from a long-term perspective is essential, but we need to move from looking to acting and building. Michigan needs a 21st-century transportation system.  A commitment to “look pretty hard at it” is not enough. We’ve been “looking” at various transit systems for about a century.

Snyder’s own position paper articulated the case for transit and high-speed rail more forcefully than most other Michigan politicians have. Why the backtracking? As some commentators have observed, Snyder’s need to contend with a skeletal budget and conservative majorities in both houses of the Legislature could make him think twice about the greener grounds he staked out in the election.

Yet that’s no excuse. Michigan elected Snyder on a promise to reinvent Michigan. Reconstructing our transit and rail networks is essential to that end. The governor owes it to Michiganders of both parties to be a forceful advocate for high-speed rail, not follow the suicidal path that Ohio and Wisconsin’s governors have taken. The State of the State address tomorrow deserves our careful scrutiny.