June 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

COLUMN

Railroads need funding, too

As transportation funding is debated, railroads say they need more money, too. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

We commend Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville for introducing a plan to increase transportation funds across all platforms in Michigan, including infrastructure repairs to roads and bridges, investment in public transit, and vital improvements to our railroads.

Rail transportation is vital to Michiganís agricultural economy, which generates more than $96 billion in annual economic activity, and supports one in four jobs.

Farmers need a reliable transportation network for moving their crops to market in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Without rail access, towns arenít likely to attract major new agricultural facilities ó and the jobs associated with them. State support for rail lines and crossings is vital to achieving that goal.

The Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Railroads Association are joining with major business groups ó including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, and regional chambers of commerce including those in Detroit and Lansing ó to add our voices to Gov. Rick Snyderís call for major investment in transportation infrastructure, and to ensure that all aspects of that infrastructure are included.

This type of forward thinking is what we need to compete in an increasingly global economy. Such a plan would meet the needs of our state for years to come; thatís why itís backed by business groups and environmental and transit organizations that recognize the time is now for funding long overdue structural repairs.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Michigan ranks 14th nationally in grain and oilseed production, and from 2006-2010 averaged 424 million bushels of crops, primarily corn, soybeans and wheat. Our state ships millions of tons of these crops by rail, saving on transport costs and reducing wear and tear on roads on our crumbling roads.

The math is simple: Failing to invest in our stateís entire transportation infrastructure hurts our ability to be competitive and keep agricultural jobs in Michigan.

We encourage lawmakers to work diligently in the coming days to create a legislative package that will meet our stateís long-term needs. That means major increases in transportation spending ó and ensuring that the investment goes toward all of our transportation infrastructure. Such a move has the support of Michigan voters ó including the agricultural community, which relies heavily on rail to get products to market.

Andrew Vermeesch is associate legislative council for the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Jon Cool is president of the Michigan Railroads Association.