ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph City Commission took action this week to support the first step in establishing a rail connection at the New Buffalo Amtrak Station to link the Pere Marquette and Wolverine/Blue Water passenger rail lines.
The commission approved a resolution Monday endorsing an environmental and engineering study to build a rail connection that would allow Pere Marquette passengers to switch to the Wolverine/Blue Water services, and supporting the ultimate construction of a connection.
Officials in the city of New Buffalo, New Buffalo Township, and the city of Bangor have approved similar resolutions, as have the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners, the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission and the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council.
The Pere Marquette train travels from Grand Rapids to Chicago every morning, returning in the evening. It passes through New Buffalo on the way but does not stop there.
Other Amtrak trains, the Wolverine and the Blue Water, connecting Chicago with Detroit and points east, pass through and stop in New Buffalo, but do not share a connection with the Pere Marquette.
St. Joseph Mayor Mike Garey said connecting the Pere Marquette with the line used by the other services, and sharing a station stop in New Buffalo, would make for a faster trip on the Pere Marquette by allowing use of the 110 mph high-speed tracks between New Buffalo and Porter, Ind.
The connection would also allow passengers to make connections with eastbound trains, and would allow passengers from the east side of the state to make connections to the Pere Marquette stations.
In presenting the resolution of support, Garey said a partnership between Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation and local communities and organizations will allow them to seek federal funding for the connection.
In another matter during Monday’s commission meeting conducted by Zoom, the commission approved a resolution joining more than 100 mayors and municipal leaders in calling for U.S. and Canadian federal governments to support additional economic stimulus efforts focused on water resources and coastal erosion mitigation.
City Manager John Hodgson said the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a group of communities in the U.S. and Canada, recently launched a campaign to secure billions of dollars for shoreline communities.
The Stimulus Water Restoration Initiative is asking for the U.S. government to provide $20 billion for water infrastructure and $500 million for coastal protection to create an estimated 400,000 jobs; and the Canadian government to provide $6.3 billion for water infrastructure and $700 million for coastal protection to create an estimated 152,000 jobs.
Hodgson said the water infrastructure portion of the program would include drinking water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer infrastructure. The city of St. Joseph has significant infrastructure work planned and the possibility of financial assistance with the work is attractive, Hodgson said. He added, however, that there is no guarantee the campaign will be successful.
In another matter, the city commission accepted a proposal from Chop Tree Service for $25,275 for tree removal along Langley Avenue.
Greg Grothous, deputy director of parks and grounds, said the department anticipates the removal of about 32 trees as part of the Langley Avenue infrastructure project planned for next summer. The project will involve construction on Langley between Napier Avenue and Pearl Street, and the installation of a multi-use path on the west side of Langley will require removal of the trees on tree lawns on that side of the street.
In addition, Indiana Michigan Power will relocate overhead power lines to the west side of Langley from the east side.
To comply with federal regulations regarding the summer habitat of the Indiana Brown Bat, an endangered species, the tree removals will not begin until after Oct. 15. The city expects to begin the infrastructure project on Langley in April.