On July 29, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) along with Groundwork Center announced the A2TC project, which will work toward developing a passenger rail from Ann Arbor to the Traverse City area, connecting the North to the rest of Michigan in an accessible and environmentally friendly way.

Hans Voss of Groundwork Center in Traverse City, declared that “in the last 10 years Michigan has made transit a priority,” a priority that isn’t possible unless all levels of community organization are involved. Pleasantly surprised by the public’s positive reaction to the plan, Voss believes that Michigan can “make this happen through partnership, collaboration, and public support.”

So how, exactly, is the railway going to happen? Kirk Steudle, director of MDOT, explained this first step of the process within the context of the whole project. A practical idea with passionate support is in place “but,” says Steudle, “you can’t get to the decision without the data points.” For the A2TC group, deeper data is an in-depth second step that will mean everything from ensuring the pre-existing tracks are as steady as they seem, to mapping nitty-gritty cost figures and figuring out how many people are likely to ride the line. It’s a daunting task and Steudle warns, “everybody has to be involved,” especially since the project’s 10-year span requires an immense amount of connectivity and patience.

For James Bruckbauer of Groundwork Center, time means money, and money is the first thing on the team’s mind when it comes to this extensive project. “It’s a $120,000 study, and 80 percent of the funds are coming through a federal transit planning grant,” Bruckbauer said. The rest of the railway’s funds will be provided by cities along the line. “We need to be working with those communities, getting written letters of support and raising awareness on the project and raising funds to support it … It just takes a lot of time.”

What the A2TC team wants to know is what the cost will be to “get the train up and running.” The team feels optimistic that the train route could be operating by 2025. Most, but not all tracks are in pretty good shape, and the worst stretch of them can be found in Traverse City. The wooden ties underneath the tracks have been in place  since the tracks were first put to use. The tracks that cross roads would also have to be improved for safety reasons. The study will look at where these weak points are around the state and figure out how much it will cost to fix them.

“The future happens one step at a time,” said Kirk Steudle of MDOT. “Today marks our first step.” It’s a future that seems bright. It’s hoped that connecting lower Michigan to the North in a universally accessible way will open the door for economic opportunity, cultural exchange, and Northern Michigan adventure.

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Photo(s) by Kathryn Davis