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Transportation is a Top Priority

By Luke Forrest and Arnold Weinfeld

 

busTransportation and infrastructure funding continue to be a top League priority. The League strongly believes that policymakers need to provide local officials and communities with all the tools necessary to become vibrant, 21st century places that will attract and retain jobs and residents. Transportation options are a key element. Given inaction at both the state and federal level, it looks to be that way for the foreseeable future.

On the state level, transportation continues to lack sufficient funding. The League is on record supporting efforts to increase revenues through increases in motor fuel and vehicle registration taxes, along with other financing mechanisms and reforms recommended within the Transportation Funding Task Force (TF2) report of 2008. Overall, our policy has always been that funding should be prioritized to repair existing roads and bridges (“fix it first”—federal  stimulus funds sent to Michigan for infrastructure projects should first be used to restore deteriorating roads and bridges and water and sewer systems in communities across the state before being spent building new roads).

We continue to work in collaboration with an array of groups as part of the Michigan Transportation Team (MTT) in support of increased revenues. MTT is a broad-based, bipartisan partnership of business, labor, local government, associations and citizens with the common goal of improving Michigan’s transportation infrastructure.


21st Century Communities Need Flexible Funding


In accordance with work done last year by a member-based committee and through the League Board of Trustees recommendation, the League has also put forth the idea of locally approved, regional revenues to give communities the flexibility to implement transportation system priorities on a regional basis. Also, the emphasis on multi-modal transportation such as walking, biking, and public transportation as assets of prosperous 21st century communities requires additional flexibility in funding. Realigning the formula within Public Act 51 and allowing communities to implement fuel user taxes will increase transportation financing and options.

This fall, the governor will be releasing a message on transportation and infrastructure. League CEO Dan Gilmartin is part of a work group brought together by the governor’s office to discuss its contents. This will give us a unique opportunity to again influence public policy and push for meaningful reforms to benefit Michigan’s communities.


Michigan Gets National Recognition


Since the Michigan Legislature, with the support of the League and many of our partner organizations, adopted Complete Streets legislation in 2010, there has been a flurry of activity across the state to take advantage of this approach to transportation and economic development. As of June 16, 2011, 44 local governments in Michigan have adopted Complete Streets resolutions or ordinances, the largest number of any state. Now Michigan's Complete Streets efforts have started receiving national recognition. The League of Michigan Bicyclists was recognized as "Winning Campaign of the Year" by the Alliance for Biking and Walking for its Complete Streets leadership. The National Complete Streets Coalition released a report analyzing and ranking Complete Streets policies in state and local governments across the country. Michigan's state policy ranks in the top five nationally. Three Michigan cities—Dexter, Ferndale, and Taylor—rank in the top 10 for their ordinances.


Grand Rapids Rep Chair of Complete Streets Advisory Council


The state’s Complete Streets Advisory Council, composed of representatives from a cross-section of interested statewide organizations, formed in April and initiated a series of discussions designed to assist the State Transportation Commission and local governments with efforts to adopt and implement policy change. Suzanne Schulz, the city of Grand Rapids’ planning director and League representative to the Council, was elected chair. She believes the Council can play an important role providing guidance to communities. “There are a lot of questions out there,” says Schulz, “How do we define Complete Streets? What does it look like? Is it one size fits all? I’m hoping we can make the answers a little more attainable for everybody and show that they really depend on context.” Schulz also wants to explore in more detail funding issues for Complete Streets implementation and the coordination between different road agencies’ regulations.


Complete Streets Coalitions


The League and its members are also participating in two coalitions supporting the implementation of Complete Streets. The Michigan Complete Streets Coalition, composed of over 100 organizations, promotes statewide Complete Streets policy and supports local communities’ initiatives. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan Community Policy Action Team brings together state agencies and advocacy organizations to continue the state’s Complete Streets momentum through policy and education. A byproduct of those collaborations was a series of training opportunities for local leaders and activists to help identify and respond to opportunities in their own community and region.

Stay tuned to the League’s Complete Streets resource page, the Complete Streets Coalition blog and the Center for 21st Century Communities blog for updates and additional resources.


Federal Issues


On the federal level, the current funding authorization legislation, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired on September 30, 2009. Since then, Congress has passed a series of extensions while congressional leaders and the administration continue to discuss and debate a long-term solution. It is rumored that the Senate will unveil a two-year bill in the near future, but with no additional funding—thereby leaving the Highway Trust Fund $12 billion short. In the meantime, the House, led by committee Chairman John Mica, is looking to the typical six-year bill, but again with no increase in funding. Another option being considered is establishing a National Infrastructure Bank to help offset the need for a large increase in the gas tax or other funding mechanism.

At the same time, the Obama administration, under the direction of USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, has made it clear that they believe in more than just highways when it comes to transportation. Through several different programs, the administration has funded numerous transit and rail projects and supported local initiatives based on Complete Street principles, putting them at odds with the usual spate of road builders and transportation interest groups.

The direction of the federal debate on transportation is currently overshadowed by the overall budget discussions. It is doubtful that anything will be resolved until the federal debt and budget questions are resolved, probably sometime this fall.

Luke Forrest is the League’s Center for 21st Century Communities project coordinator. You may reach him at 734-669-6323 or lforrest@mml.org.

Arnold Weinfeld is the director of strategic initiatives and federal affairs for the League. You may reach him at 517-908-0304 or a
weinfeld@mml.org.

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