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Planning for Manistee rail relocation gets $424K in federal dollars


Some major funding is coming to a freight railroad reconstruction project in Manistee.

The project aims to reroute about 3.5 miles of track around Lake Manistee and eliminate aging bridges. The grant would finance the planning phase of the project.

Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow announced this week that $424,000 in grant dollars are coming from the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Investing in updates to our rail system is critical for local communities, the safety of passengers and workers, the environment, and the efficient transportation of goods,” Peters said in a statement. “This funding will help pave the way for the re-routing of train tracks in Manistee County that will allow rail cars to avoid traveling over aging and potentially unsafe bridges.”

The grant is part of the Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) Program approved in the $1 trillion infrastructure law that the Biden administration signed in 2021.


Locally, the project is part of a larger endeavor to increase Manistee’s economic development.

By creating a new rail loop on the southern tip of Manistee Lake, tracks to the north can be decommissioned and turned into trails – freeing up about 23.5 acres of lakefront property for new development.

A 2022 proposal for the project predicts over $3 million per year in taxable value, should the area be developed. The change would also allow access to five industrial sites along the lake from the south.

Manistee County grant administrator Bill Kennis said the grant application had 11 letters of support from local government entities and officials.

“In light of the recent Ohio (train derailment) incident, some of these older bridges and crossings are of great concern,” Kennis said. “That's what we hope to mitigate.”


According to reporting from the Manistee News-Advocate, initial discussion to relocate the railroad dates back to 1989, and studies were conducted in 1998 and 2008 to evaluate the feasibility of removing the tracks.

Manistee County Board of Commissioners chair Jeffrey Dontz said he appreciates the senators for providing support for Manistee County. He said additional grant funding is necessary to complete the project.

“This is a bite out of a single apple in a bushel of apples,” Dontz said.

Kennis said he may begin applying for grants to fund the construction of the project in the fall.

“(This project) has really great value and will just have an immeasurable impact on the community,” Kennis said.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.