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There's a Better Way to Get There (Page 3)

August 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Costs to Families
Concerned citizens across Michigan, however, say it's time for the state to make more fiscally responsible investments with taxpayer money, especially in an era when:

  • Personal cars and trucks cost an average of $5,000 to $6,000 a year to operate.
  • Transportation has become the second-largest expense in family budgets.
  • MDOT is either studying or pressing to build $2.5 billion in new highways in western and northern Lower Michigan. It is the most aggressive and expensive highway construction program proposed since the state Interstate highway system was completed in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Just look at the money that's being spent on roads compared to what's spent on public transportation or any alternative," said David Bulkowski, associate director of the Center for Independent Living in Grand Rapids, a disability rights organization that works on transportation issues. "The state needs to make a policy adjustment that responds to new needs, that promotes Smart Growth instead of sprawl, and makes a real investment in public transit."

That such views are gaining greater currency in Michigan reflect not only a maturing attitude about the relationship between transportation and development, but also how difficult it has become to get around in a state where the vehicle population is increasing twice as fast as the human one.

From 1990 to 1998, Michigan's population increased from 9.3 million to 9.8 million, a gain of 500,000 people or 5%. Of the 50 states, 46 are growing faster in population than Michigan.

But during the same period the state's vehicle population grew from 7.5 million to 8.4 million, or more than 10%. According to MDOT, residents last year drove 91.6 billion miles, which is 38.5 billion miles or 72% more than in 1970. The Detroit metropolitan region, now a geographic area four times larger than it was in the 1960s, has become the seventh most congested urban center in the United States, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute, a research group based at Texas A&M University.

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