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Posts from the ‘transportation’ Category

Transportation funding: An exciting future is within reach

Editor’s note: This is the third and final post in a series on transportation funding leading up to the May 5 special election. Read the previous installments here and here.

A lot of what you’ve read about Proposal 1 has probably been about the price Michigan is paying today for our history of inadequately funding our transportation system. Past mistakes—like our flat-rate fuel tax that hasn’t kept pace with inflation—have left us with roads so bad that many local governments are opting to turn them back into gravel, and “structurally deficient” bridges that, in some cases, you can see right through.

It’s all been pretty gloomy. That’s why we wanted to end this series on a hopeful note by offering some glimpses of what Michigan’s transportation future can look like if voters approve Proposal 1. Yes, it will take some time to address the backlog of projects needed to get our infrastructure back in decent shape. But before long, the new funding will support exciting projects that will ultimately add up to the 21st-century transportation system Michigan needs.

Playing catch-up

Roads and bridges are crucial pieces of that system, no doubt. But MEC’s transportation focus is on the environmental, social and economic benefits Michigan will enjoy from improved and expanded passenger rail, public transit and complete streets that address the needs of all users. If Proposal 1 passes, those pillars of our transportation system will see a $116 million annual funding increase.

That sure sounds like a lot, but what does $116 million really get us? Well, to put it in context, the entire startup cost of the planned WALLY commuter rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor is $30 million, plus about $5 million a year to operate the service. The influx of new funding will help get WALLY and similar projects off the ground sooner by providing the matching funds needed to unlock significant federal grants.

Of course, public transportation has a lot of catching up to do in Michigan, since it hasn’t seen a structural funding increase in nearly three decades. Like our roads, public transportation is crumbling in many communities. Some local bus agencies are reducing service and even eliminating routes.  So in addition to launching new projects, Proposal 1 would strengthen the foundation of our public transportation network with basic improvements to existing services. A large portion of the new revenue would support local bus operating expenses, which could mean that transit service in your community extends service hours, increases frequency or provides additional route options.

That’s important, because people all over Michigan depend on public transit to accomplish the basic tasks of daily life. It’s how many rural residents get to the grocery store. Seniors and people with disabilities take buses to the doctor’s office or to visit family members. In some urban districts, public buses are the only way for kids to get to school. Without transit, many of our friends and neighbors couldn’t get to the college classes or job interviews that will bring their families new possibilities and stability. The 260,000 rides Michiganders take on public transit every day are essential gateways to opportunity for economic advancement.

Young people on DC Metro

Research shows good transit is increasingly important for attracting young talent.

On track to prosperity

The benefits of these investments will extend beyond the day-to-day convenience and access to opportunities they provide for millions of Michiganders, though such benefits are significant. Whether or not we build a modern, complete transportation system will be a deciding factor in Michigan’s economic competitiveness. Report after report tells us that Americans across all age groups are looking for more and better options for getting around. Millennials are getting their licenses and owning cars at ever-decreasing rates. Baby boomers are rethinking the auto-centric lifestyle they grew up with and moving away from car-reliant suburbs. Cultural shifts among these two huge demographic groups demand that we think about our transportation system in a more comprehensive way if we want to attract and retain talent and improve quality of life for everyone.

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Transportation funding: Here’s what Proposal 1 does (and why it’s good for Michigan)

Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series on transportation funding leading up to the May 5 special election. Read part one here.

In our first post in this series, we explored the factors—changing driving habits, fuel taxes not keeping pace with inflation, more fuel-efficient vehicles—that have left Michigan and other states hurting for dollars to maintain transportation infrastructure.

In this post we’ll dive into what Proposal 1 would do to begin addressing that shortfall. We’ll warn you right now, folks: This is gonna get pretty wonky. But we think it’s important that voters really understand what’s on the ballot in May, so we’ll do our best to be both thorough and readable.

First, we need to understand how we currently fund Michigan’s transportation system. And as you’ll see, for all the talk by its opponents of how “complicated” Proposal 1 is, it’s not as if our current system is the model of elegance.

How transportation funding works today

The bulk of our transportation dollars comes in roughly equal proportion from two main sources: First, there’s the motor fuel excise tax—19 cents per gallon on gasoline and 15 cents per gallon on diesel—that we all pay at the fuel pump.  Second, there’s the vehicle registration fees we pay at the Secretary of State’s office. The motor fuel excise tax is a flat tax, meaning that it does not react to price inflation—we pay the same amount whether gas costs $1.50 or $3.50.

Current funding structure

About half of our transportation funding comes from the federal government. In recent years our transportation shortfall has been so significant that we’ve had to tap Michigan’s general fund—basically the state’s main checking account—just to meet the match required to be eligible for those federal funds. That money all pours into the Michigan Transportation Fund, the bulk of which pays for roads and bridges. The transportation fund also supports public transit and directs money to the Recreation Improvement Fund, which supports trails, waterways and other outdoor amenities that make Michigan a great place to visit and explore. Read more

Transportation funding: How’d we get here?

The package of transportation-funding bills Gov. Snyder signed  earlier this month sets the stage for a ballot initiative with high stakes for drivers, transit riders and Michigan’s economy.

Voters in May will have their say on a proposed 1 percent increase in the state sales tax. Along with $300 million per year in new school funding, the proposal would raise about $1.2 billion a year for roads and at least $107 million annually for the Comprehensive Transportation Fund, which supports maintenance and upgrades to public transit and passenger rail. If approved, it would be the state’s first structural increase in funding for public transportation since 1987.

Like many Michiganders, we would have preferred a full solution from the Legislature, rather than facing the added cost, delay and uncertainty a ballot initiative adds to the process. But a ballot drive is what we’ve got, and MEC fully supports its passage.

In the run-up to the May vote, we’ll use this blog to take a close look at Michigan’s transportation system and to make our case that supporting that system in its entirety—not just roads and bridges—is essential to our state’s quality of life and economic competitiveness.

In this first installment of an occasional series, we’ll explore how Michigan arrived at such a desperate need for new transportation funding, and show we’re far from alone in that need.

How we got here

It only takes a few minutes behind the wheel on most Michigan roads to see how badly we need new transportation revenue. (Drive down Pine St. in Lansing from MEC’s offices to I-496. We dare you.)

What’s going on here? Why have the roads gotten so bad? Read more

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:

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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