Traverse City Record-Eagle

Region

February 5, 2014

Study to examine TC-to-Williamsburg rail idea

TRAVERSE CITY — It’s not quite a flying car, but a train could be in the future for Traverse-area residents.

The Michigan Land Use Institute will conduct a preliminary feasibility study of using existing railroad track to transport people from downtown Traverse City to the Acme/Williamsburg area.

“We see this not only as an opportunity to provide transportation service, but also down the road, in the long- term it could provide support for some more walkable type of development along the ends of the line,” said James Bruckbauer, the transportation policy specialist at MLUI.

A train would help support a growing population in both areas and take advantage of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s presence in 2015, when it will be reconstructing U.S. 31 in the area.

“This creates an opportunity to talk about, down the road, how do we want to get around the region and do we want more options for getting around our heavily traveled roads?” Bruckbauer said.

MLUI will conduct the study, partially funded by a $5,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors. It aims to look at the costs of the project, whether the train would be geared toward tourists or commuters and what sort of car would be used.

“This could be used not only by the tribe for workers, but also patrons of the resort and casino who are also staying in downtown,” said Kim Pontius, the executive vice president of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors.

The Bay Area Transportation Authority added a fixed bus route from Traverse City to Williamsburg in May. Ridership on the route has consistently ranged between 1,000 and 1,500 rides each month, said Carrie Thompson, the BATA business development director.

Train service would directly compete with bus service, said Matt Skeels, the coordinator for the Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study at the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.

“The thing with bus service is it’s so much more flexible. Train service will only be able to go to Williamsburg from wherever the stops are,” Skeels said. “In my mind, rail transportation is better suited for higher population densities than we have here in this region.”

The existing track, owned by MDOT, is used only occasionally to transport lumber.

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