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The Smooth Ride Home

An action plan for Michigan

August 1, 1999 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

While road building is the catch-all approach in Lansing, community leaders back home are seeking alternatives to the march of asphalt and concrete.

Despite overtures from citizens and incentives from the federal government, the Michigan Department of Transportation has been lukewarm to local attempts at innovation. Still, some stalwart communities are forging ahead on their own.

The Michigan Transportation and Land Use Coalition, a statewide group organized by the Institute (see the Spring 1999 Great Lakes Bulletin) took inspiration from these local models in forming a series of policy goals for the state's $2.8 billion annual transportation budget. A brief summary follows.

10% for People
Intermodal travel — that is, using two or more "modes," like bus and train — is a Capital Area Transportation Authority specialty. CATA, which is well-supported by local property tax revenues, provides bus service all over Lansing, including stops at the city airport and local train station. At CATA's new downtown station, riders transfer from Greyhound to a city bus by walking fifty feet.

The state Constitution allows 10% of state transportation funding to be devoted to public transit. The Coalition is working to ensure that allocations reach that level, which could bring up to $100 million more a year into transit agencies.

CONTACT: Mark Fedorowicz, Director of Resource Development, CATA, 517-394-1100, e-mail: <mfedorowicz@cata.org>.

Increase Public Involvement
When Congress passed major transportation reforms in 1991, the new laws required better public participation in making major decisions. The Southeast Michigan Council ofGovernments hasdone the most in Michigan to heed that call.

As part of the agency's 20-year regional plan for transportation projects — which is updated every five years — SEMCOG holds public meetings and involves citizens in identifying problems and devising solutions.

So many people have called for more public transit that SEMCOG made it a top priority. The agency now is actively promoting increased funding for public transit and commuter rail in the Detroit region among lawmakers and Transportation Department officials.

CONTACT: Lorraine Watt-Corradino, Public Participation Coordinator, SEMCOG, 313-961-4266.

Fix Roads First
In Washtenaw County, 6% of commuters walk or bike to work. That's no surprise considering the investment the county makes in transportation alternatives. Leaders here believe that transportation spending is about increasing mobility — not about laying new pavement. For example, along Business I-94 — the major thoroughfare between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti — the county built a 12-foot wide, smooth bike and pedestrian path about 30 feet from the road that provides protection from the traffic.

Ten percent of all federal transportation dollars are set aside for such projects. By duplicating the federal funding formula Michigan can guarantee that its transportation dollars are supporting mobility for every citizen, not just those with cars.

CONTACT: Bob Tetens, Urban Area Transportation Study, 734-994-3127.

Integrate Land Use and Transportation Planning
The 4,000 residents of the village of Chelsea, west of Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, know from firsthand experience how transportation and land use planning interact.

Chelsea's Main Street is M-52, a major connector between I-94 and I-96 that is experiencing increasing traffic snarls. MDOT proposed widening M-52 to relieve congestion. Residents from Chelsea and surrounding townships objected, formed a committee, and held a visioning session in May to find better solutions that would moderate traffic and protect the landscape.

One of their priorities was to preserve downtown Chelsea's small town character. The committee recommended diverting some traffic to existing roads. They will need to be repaved, but at much lower cost to the state treasury and neighborhoods than MDOT's plan.

The citizen committee recently received $110,000 in state grants, from MDOT and the Economic Development Corporation, to refine its proposal. Formal recommendations are expected next spring.

CONTACT: Joe Yekulis, Washtenaw County Commissioner, 734-475-3874.

Preserve Rail Corridors, the Public's Right-of-Way
In 1983 Congress amended the National Trails System Act to include a "railbanking" program, which preserves unused rail corridors for future use as commuter or inter-city rail lines. Michigan has approximately 4,000 miles of rail lines used mostly for freight traffic. In addition, 1,100 more miles of railroad are preserved under the federal railbanking system, most now used as rail-trails that could be put into use as operational rail lines if needed.

The state program for railbanking, meanwhile contains 26 more miles of rail line. The Coalition is seeking to prevent rail lines from being turned into highways, encourage more investment in commuter rail lines, and expand the high-speed inter-city rail network in Michigan.

CONTACT: Nancy Krupiarz, Director, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy — Michigan Chapter, 517-393-6022.

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