Should I take the train or my car to work this morning? If I take the car, I might have to fight traffic back-ups on US-23 or worry about driving in bad weather. But… if I plan out my trip and take the train today, I can catch up on emails on the way into the office (or read my favorite blogs), and I know I’ll be home in time to catch my daughter’s soccer game.
This scene is something many folks in Livingston and Washtenaw Counties have only been able to dream about for nearly a decade. Currently US-23 is virtually the only way to travel north and south between Howell and Ann Arbor. Whether you want to get home from work in time to catch your kids’ soccer game, avoid the morning traffic jam at the Main Street exit of M-14, or simply escape having to drive through a mid-January blizzard after the sun goes down, the proposed WALLY commuter rail is being developed with all these scenarios in mind. It would be a new option for transportation between Howell and Ann Arbor that is in a path completely separate from the highway.
WALLY (also known as the North-South Commuter Rail) is a 27-mile commuter rail line planned to run between Howell and Ann Arbor for weekday service in the morning and late-afternoon rush hours. The concept service was conceived in 2006 as a cost-effective alternative to the I-96 and US-23 highways that currently serve the corridor. The tracks already exist, passing through Genoa, Hamburg, Green Oak, Northfield, and Ann Arbor townships between the cities anchoring each end. Most of the proposed commuter rail route between Howell and Ann Arbor is owned by the State of Michigan and has already been upgraded for passenger service. Great Lakes Central Railroad, headquartered in Owosso MI, has already refurbished the necessary passenger cars for the proposed commuter service, under contract from the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Two studies have already been conducted examining the interest in the service, as well as its base feasibility. A full feasibility study is slated to begin soon. In 2007, a study by R.L. Banks & Associates projected an initial ridership of 1300, that would increase overtime in a similar fashion to comparable commuter rail services in the US. Later in 2009, a random sample survey of 100 Livingston County and 100 Washtenaw County residents, conducted by Ilium and Associates found that 75% of Washtenaw County and 80% of Livingston County residents Strongly Approve or Approve of the service. Going a step further, the survey also found that 71% of residents would likely use the service to travel to Washtenaw County.
The University of Michigan has stepped up to the plate, offering to underwrite the fare for its 3,700 employees living in Livingston County – this would be a profound kickstart to the service’s ridership base.
So what can you do to help make this concept a reality? The Friends of WALLY is a non-profit organization officially established in December 2013. Friends of WALLY is a group of citizens and neighbors across Livingston and Washtenaw Counties working together to help educate the community about WALLY, who need your help to make this project happen. Here’s how you can pitch in:
- Talk to you friends and neighbors about WALLY.
- Speak at local government meetings. If you live in Livingston or Washtenaw Counties your city, township or village government wants to hear what you think. When people voice their opinions the leaders get a better idea of how people feel about the issue and are more likely to act on WALLY.
- If you are a better writer than speaker, write letters to local government officials and newspapers. The more people that hear about WALLLY the more likely it is that they will act.
- Hand out flyers about WALLY at locations in your neighborhood
- Join us staffing informational tables at many local events.
- Attend Friends of WALLY organization meetings