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Posts from the ‘transportation’ Category

Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad

With Michigan’s lame duck session in full swing, we thought we’d update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a very…interesting—yes, we’ll go with interesting—week at the Capitol.

The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.

And so, here’s a roundup of this week’s environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.

Ugly

There’s bad legislation, and then there’s House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan’s clean energy law, changing the definition of “renewable” to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.

Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer. Read more

Good budget news overshadowed by road funding dead end

Michigan lawmakers are in for a bumpy ride home.

They are in the unenviable position—but one they put themselves in—of explaining to constituents why they couldn’t work out a solution to a maddening problem we all face every day and that the majority of Michiganders say is the most urgent issue facing the state.

Their inability to pass a transportation funding package means our roads will only get worse, doing more damage to our vehicles, driving away businesses that might otherwise invest in Michigan and likely even costing more Michiganders their lives.

It also means the rest of Michigan’s transportation system will lose out. As we wrote here recently, public transit, passenger and freight rail, cargo shipping infrastructure and public boating facilities all will suffer because the Legislature couldn’t get the job done before breaking for summer recess.

But! It’s Friday and the forecast looks gorgeous. Summer in Michigan is too brief and too lovely to spend much time grumbling. Let’s keep on the sunny side.

In the Legislature’s mad dash toward summer break, they passed a budget that actually will do great things for Michigan’s people and environment. Here are a few examples to cheer you up for the weekend. Read more

Time is right—but running out—for transportation funding deal

Michigan’s legislature has one week left before the summer recess. With the Detroit aid package finalized and a budget agreement shaping up, lawmakers face just one major hurdle before they head home to reconnect with their constituents.

Doubt is growing in Lansing about whether legislators can agree on a transportation funding package before the break. While they could take the issue back up in the fall, we believe the leadership in the Capitol must hammer out a deal immediately.

Here are a few reasons they need to get it done now: Read more

Long track record, millage victory make Ford solid choice as RTA chief

MEC applauded the unanimous vote Wednesday by the board of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan to hire longtime transportation administrator Michael Ford as its new CEO.

Ford previously held leadership positions with transit authorities in Stockton, Calif., Portland and Seattle. All told, he has 35 years of experience with public and private transit institutions, from working as a bus station custodian in college to serving a management role with Greyhound.

Perhaps the deciding factor in the nine-member board’s selection of Ford was his success in his current role at the helm of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Ford is still employed by AAATA and has not yet confirmed that he will accept the RTA offer.

Ford is fresh off a major win at AAATA, where he helped to gain 71% voter approval this month for a new millage that will expand transit service by 44% in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Rigorous planning, communications and public engagement were major factors in that decisive victory.

With its own millage campaign set to culminate in November 2016, the RTA stands to benefit from Ford’s experience in Ann Arbor, said MEC President Chris Kolb.

“Michael Ford has proven he has the right set of skills to demonstrate to community members that better public transportation creates a stronger region with more opportunities for residents,” Kolb said. “I’m confident his strong leadership will help the RTA fulfill its potential as a transformative force for Metro Detroit.”

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MEC releases report exploring mileage fee to fund transportation system

MEC today released a report that explores the possibility of funding Michigan’s transportation system by charging motorists based on the distance they drive.

One key advantage of a mileage fee is its fairness, the report says. The damage a vehicle does to roadways depends on how far it travels and how much it weighs, both of which can be accounted for in a well-designed mileage fee.

Another benefit is that charging per mile avoids one of the pitfalls of Michigan’s current per-gallon tax on gasoline: As vehicles become more fuel-efficient, revenue from that tax will continue to shrink. By charging based on distance driven rather than fuel burned, a mileage fee could provide a more stable source of funding for our transportation system.

Oregon already has begun implementing a limited mileage fee policy, and other states—including Texas, Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nevada—have studied it as a funding option.

Of course, as a Detroit Free Press story on the report noted, privacy concerns and other hurdles would have to be cleared before such a system could be implemented. But MEC President Chris Kolb said having a discussion now will help Michigan establish a transportation-funding mechanism that is fair, efficient and sustainable in the long run.

“We think a mileage fee is worth examining as a potential future revenue source for our state’s transportation system,” he said. “Implementing the fee would likely take the better part of a decade, so it makes sense to start the conversation and see if it’s the right fit for Michigan.”

As a world leader in automotive technology, Michigan is a natural fit to develop the technology and policies a mileage fee would require, Kolb added.

MEC commissioned the report from SMART, a transportation research initiative at the University of Michigan. The two groups held a briefing on the report this morning in Lansing, followed by a panel discussion featuring Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation; John Austin, nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution; and Conan Smith, executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

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Photo courtesy Chris Chan via Flickr.

 

Transportation proposal a step forward on road funding, but detour bypasses public transit

There’s not much left to say about the sorry state of Michigan’s roads.

Oakland County alone has 660 miles in need of resurfacing. Tire insurance sales are through the roof. And then there was that picture of a pothole-repair truck swallowed by an epic pothole.

We all agree: Enough talk – let’s fix our roads.

A proposal from House Speaker Jase Bolger aims to do just that. Unfortunately, it aims to do only that.

As our Transportation for Michigan (Trans4M) allies point out in a new blog post, Bolger’s plan would raise an estimated $450 million in 2015 to fix roads. That’s less than half of what’s needed, but it’s a first step.

The problem is that the plan skirts a significant portion of the usual formula for allocating transportation funding as outlined in a law called Act 51. That means all of the money would go to roads. Public transportation would get nothing.

Here’s a breakdown from Trans4M of how Bolger’s proposal would shortchange public transit by sidestepping the top half of the Act 51 formula:

Read more

Tug of war: Senate approves trails package while House panel cuts funding for—you guessed it—trails

The Senate today approved a package of bills to establish a Pure Michigan Trail Network – an encouraging sign that state lawmakers recognize the important role world-class trails and other outdoor recreation assets can play in growing local economies and enhancing quality of life.

The Senate package allows the director of the Department of Natural Resources to give trails and towns the Pure Michigan designation upon recommendation from the Natural Resources Commission. It also gives a nod to our state’s outstanding paddling by allowing the director to designate Pure Michigan Water Trails.  The bills also would change the Snowmobile and Trailways Advisory Council to the Trails Advisory Council.

“This package will bring the entire Michigan trails system into the spotlight,” said Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. “We have an incredible array of trails of all types, and we want to recognize them all and the towns that embrace them.”

The legislation makes place-based investments in outdoor assets a centerpiece of Michigan’s reinvention strategy, said Brad Garmon, MEC’s director of conservation and emerging issues. It also celebrates best-in-class trails that showcase Michigan’s natural beauty and cultural sites, rather than slapping the Pure Michigan label on lower-profile trails that serve an important practical purpose but don’t reinforce the Pure Michigan brand. Read more

Friday linkaround: Big week for cyclists and the DNR finds a lost toddler!

Good Friday everyone! Here are some items of interest from the week that’s drawing to a close:

It was a big week for our friends at the League of Michigan Bicyclists, with two legislative victories: House passage of revised right-turn signals and vulnerable roadway user legislation.

The state released this draft report last week on its findings regarding customer choice in the electric utility market. The report stays scrupulously neutral on the question of whether to expand competitive choice beyond the current 10% cap….perhaps indicating the governor will not be proposing significant changes to the program. More explanation on the choice cap is here (PDF)

Read more

Today’s impromptu effort to change a little bitty corner of the world

Dear Dean Transportation:

Today (May 8th) there are about one-dozen Dean charter buses parked on Pere Marquette Street in Lansing (possibly related to Mitt Romney’s Lansing speech?) These buses have been idling for more than an hour with no occupants. It seems a tremendous waste of fuel, an unnecessary release of pollutants, and increases in carbon monoxide and other unhealthy byproducts that drift into the businesses, offices (mine included) and pedestrians along the street.

If Dean has no idling policy, it might be a worthwhile endeavor — both from a business/cost perspective and a good neighbor perspective.

Thank you for your time

Hugh McDiarmid Jr.

(We’ll share any response from Dean in a future update. As an aside, many other states have idling laws. Michigan does not.)

DTW shuttle: Too convenient?

Check out this pitiful example of how to cut off your nose to spite your face.

Lansing airport officials, abetted by community leaders and elected officials, scuttled a plan to improve Michigan Flyer bus service to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. They falsely believed that if it is too convenient, it might take passengers away from Lansing.  The truth is, bus service to Detroit Metro has been successful because it provides a needed service for folks going there anyway. Lansing residents, in comments taken as part of a regional visioning process, want the service.

We pointed much of this out to decision makers in an analysis that is available Page 40 of this PDF. But none of that mattered. Nor, apparently, did it matter that the Flyer service takes cars off the road – reducing congestion, lessening pollution, reducing fuel consumption and saving Michiganders’ money.

Until our leaders truly understand that we sink and swim together we will not thrive. Blocking convenient options for Detroit-bound Lansingites is not an economic strategy. It is short-sighted. And an example of why Michigan’s oft-parochial worldview tends to keep us from moving forward together.

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