Environment Picture

Advancing Transportation Solutions

Keeping transit in the funding formula

Effective bus service is a necessity for Michiganders who lack access to a vehicle or cannot drive because of a disability. For others, good transit is part of an ideal hometown and lifestyle. In fact, two-thirds of Millenials rank public transportation in their top three factors when deciding where to live.

Whether by need or by choice, Michiganders take public transit 95 million times each year, and their ranks are swelling. Statewide ridership saw an 18 percent increase from 2005 to 2009, while per-capita driving in Michigan has dropped more than 7 percent since 2005.

That’s good news for the quality of our air, the health of our families, and our progress in meeting the challenges of climate change. And it’s why MEC made a strong push to ensure that state leaders included our complete transportation system in the major funding proposals they debated.

Several times over the course of 2014 the Legislature tried and failed to pass a major transportation funding package. Locked in a stalemate until the closing hours of the lame-duck legislative session, the governor and legislative leaders finally reached an eleventh-hour compromise that left voters to decide on a sales tax increase to generate significant new revenues.

While that ballot proposal was complicated, imperfect and ultimately failed at the polls, the fact that it included $116 million per year in new investments for public transit—what would have been the first structural funding boost for transit since 1987—was a testament to MEC’s effective work in 2014.

A handful of policymakers tried throughout the process to cut transit, bike lanes, walking paths and other non-motorized projects out of funding proposals. Every step of the way, MEC and our allies responded immediately and decisively.

We made our case to Gov. Snyder and his advisors; brought transit advocates to the Capitol for meetings with their elected representatives; rallied our coalition partnership to make their voices heard; submitted guest columns to newspapers and appeared on talk radio programs; and used our blog and other social media tools to spread the word to the public, our members and supporters.

Coast-to-Coast passenger rail
MEC is the lead voice in Michigan for restoring passenger train service on a Coast-to-Coast route connecting Detroit to Lansing and Grand Rapids and ultimately reaching Lake Michigan in Holland. We’re the project manager for a federal grant to assess the demand for this service and the costs of making it operational.

Initially, that involved placing language in the state budget calling for the study and raising $20,000 in required matching funds from cities and towns, local chambers of commerce, and other community institutions along the corridor. We formed and led a stakeholder advisory group to provide input for the study and a steering committee to hire and manage the technical research firm that’s gathering and analyzing all the relevant data. And we planned a major community engagement campaign that will involve more than a dozen community meetings along the corridor to include and inspire Michiganders. At the same time, we partnered with allies who are leading efforts to achieve new commuter rail service from Ann Arbor to Howell and restore long-forgotten passenger rail service connecting Southeast Michigan to Traverse City.

Coordinated regional transit in Southeast Michigan
MEC joined many allies in the successful 2012 campaign to establish the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which will expand and integrate bus and rail service in Metro Detroit. Since then, we have provided strong leadership in advocating for the state and local funding the RTA needs to fulfill its critical mission. We helped form a coalition that will educate residents, business executives, and nonprofit, faith and civic leaders about the myriad benefits of coordinated transit with an eye to a potential region-wide ballot measure to raise major revenue for the RTA.

Adding accountability to highway expansion plans
Michigan’s failure to maintain its existing roads and adequately support public transportation hasn’t stopped officials in Southeast Michigan from resuscitating plans to widen I-94 in Detroit and U.S. 23 in Washtenaw County. MEC and our partners weighed in on those efforts through written comments, testimony at public meetings and communications with the media. We also encouraged residents and community organizations to raise their voices with us. While making the case that resources would be much better spent on repairing our existing infrastructure and improving transit options, we pressed regional leaders to update or redo outdated studies—required by federal law—to assess the environmental impacts of proposed projects.
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