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New public transportation coalition notches first success with full state funding for 2012

A new coalition aimed at transportation policy reform scored its first important victory in May when the Michigan Legislature agreed to maintain current funding for public transportation in the 2012 budget.

Members of the Transportation for Michigan (Trans4M) coalition lobbied hard to preserve the budgets of local bus systems and other transportation services since the coalition’s April 7 kickoff. Dozens of meetings with legislators, coordinated media outreach and grassroots calls and messages to elected officials helped keep public transportation off the budget chopping block.

“Legislators from both sides agreed that public transportation is an increasingly vital tool in the economies of local towns and cities,” said Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC). “Modernizing our transportation options is a long path, but it was important to maintain this foothold.”

MEC is a founding member of the broad-based Trans4M coalition, which includes nonprofits, businesses, policy makers, environmental groups, planners, academic institutions and others. It comes at a crucial time for Michigan as the state retools its beleaguered economy in the midst of rising gasoline prices and declining revenue for road repairs and improvements.

Trans4M’s goal is to make Michigan’s towns and economies more robust through transportation policy reform and smart investments in roads and bridges. The new coalition was announced April 7 during a statewide telephone press conference.

 “This coalition is dedicated to establishing public policies that enable more frequent, reliable and affordable transportation options and smart, effective prioritization of upkeep for our existing roads and bridges,” said Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League. “To be competitive, Michigan must recognize the vital role that these services play in our economy and our quality of life.”

“Now more than ever we have to be strategic and smart with every dollar we invest,” said Rich Studley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “Maintaining our current roads and bridges, and providing options for people who want to become less dependent on gasoline and personal vehicles are key strategic goals for our state.”

Surveys consistently show that having reliable, affordable transportation options is a key factor in attracting and retaining jobs and talent. More than three-quarters of New Economy companies rated access to efficient public transportation as an extremely important factor in selecting corporate locations, according to a recent survey by Jones Lang LaSalle, a financial and professional services company.

“Becoming more diverse, more flexible and more resilient in our economic foundation and in our transportation options is essential if we are to compete for future jobs and prosperity,” said Gilmartin. “Connecting our communities to each other, and workers to jobs, is both an economic and quality of life imperative.”

Transportation for Michigan intends to work with local, regional, state and federal decision makers to create strong transportation systems that will energize the state’s economic recovery. Priorities may include:
  • Supporting adequate and targeted investments in the state’s existing roads and bridges;
  • Supporting Gov. Rick Snyder’s transportation budget recommendations for the Comprehensive Transportation Fund;
  • Securing state legislative approval for matching funds that will leverage $161 million in federal dollars for high speed passenger rail projects along the Detroit-Chicago corridor; and/or
  • Creating regional transportation authorities to connect people and communities with multiple travel options.
MEC President Chris Kolb said the coalition’s goals make both economic and environmental sense.

 “Moving people more efficiently reduces our dependency on fossil fuels and lessens the public health impacts caused by their emissions,” said Kolb. “Smarter transportation options mean more vibrant, more livable, healthier communities and a stronger economy.

High $peed Rail help

Gov. Rick Snyder and other officials accepted almost $200 million in federal grants to improve high speed passenger railroad service in Michigan during a May 9 event in Detroit. The grants bring to $402 million the amount Michigan has received to improve service and increase speeds in the Detroit/Chicago rail corridor. Michigan needs to provide a match of roughly $40 million, which MEC will be pushing for via state legislation this summer.

Trans4M will be adding organizations to its membership roll in coming months. Current members include: Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, Detroit Branch NAACP, Disability Advocates of Kent County, Gamaliel of Michigan, Land Information Access Association, Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, Michigan Association of Planning, Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan Land Use Institute, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Suburbs Alliance, The Right Place, Inc., Transportation Riders United. ?
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