Snyder is weighing in on metro Detroit transit

Jul 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm
No one who knows is saying what, but Gov. Rick Snyder’s quiet appointment of a longtime political adviser and administrator Dennis Schornack to work on southeast Michigan transportation seems to indicate — as one federal source put it — that the guv wants to see something done.

Schornack, most recently the executive director of the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association, was a special adviser to Gov. John Engler, a Republican, on health care and the environment. President George W. Bush appointed him to the International Joint Commission and the International Boundary Commission. But the White House fired Schornack when he refused to compromise over a federal law. A story covered in the op-ed page of The New York Times.

No one in Detroit Mayor Bing’s administration, the governor’s office nor Schornack himself was talking Friday about what his agenda is, can or should be.

But Gongwer New Service reports that Schornack will work with the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) ostensibly to improve the bus and rail options in the area.

Hmmm. Could he be rounding up the wayward parties and hitching them together in some sort of regional authority?

Will he dust off the regional plan passed by the Regional Transit Coordinating Council a few years ago that called for improved bus systems tying into eventual light rail and possibly including routes to the airport and other Michigan cities?

Could Schornack, with the inherent power and influence that comes from working for the state’s top elected official, find some funding for these regional efforts? Because money, those in the know say, would solve a lot of the region’s transportation problems.

Among the issues that he could be sent to address or have to contend with:

• There’s the current split of the Detroit and regional bus systems which makes little financial or operational sense.

• There are the private investors who are bucking the current incarnation of the Woodward Light Rail system that they tried to start. That’s the  effort of Roger Penske, Dan Gilbert, Peter Karmanos and Matt Cullen who originally pledged some $125 million themselves to build a rail system from downtown to New Center. It’s now anyone’s guess as to whether the private money, part of what the feds were counting on to finance the project, will be there and the city has yet to put forth a comprehensive, workable funding scheme, in the opinion of many train spotters.

• And there’s the churn over in the mayor’s office that has left little stability among his top officials.

Schornack doesn’t bring a transit-filled resume, but then few in southeast Michigan have such credentials.

What he does bring is the governor’s attention, for what that’s worth, and an apparent willingness to address an unconscionably bad transportation system.

Here’s hoping. Again.