We are one month into this year’s transportation funding discussion and there are plenty of ideas on the table so far. We have truly come a long way in this debate. Now it is a matter of picking the right plan.
Governor Rick Snyder gave the state House and Senate Appropriations committees his executive budget recommendations on February 7. More than a dozen funding bills have been filed across the House and Senate since. Snyder has been pushing legislators to pick a funding plan in time for this summer’s construction season.
Representatives of Trans4M core members, Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP), and Michigan Suburbs Alliance have met with new representatives, party leadership and other key legislators to advocate for increased funding for a complete transportation system. Legislators, generally, have been interested in hearing what we had to say and which funding mechanisms we support. They also have been non-committal.
Many agree that Michigan’s transportation system is underfunded, but few are willing to acknowledge that we all need to pay for it. Transportation infrastructure underpins our state’s economic infrastructure. As illustrated in the above graph, our current state transportation budget is inadequate for maintaining roads.
There is more to modernizing our state’s transportation system than just fixing roads, though. For example, rail ridership is booming in Michigan. According to a new report from the Brookings Institute out this month, all three of Michigan’s Amtrak lines have experienced double-digit growth in ridership since 1997. With a 68-percent increase, the most growth during this period has been on Michigan’s Pere Marquette line, between Grand Rapids and Chicago. Just over a year ago, the Wolverine line became Michigan’s first high speed rail line, with high-speed service between Porter, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Since 2003, Amtrak farebox revenue in Michigan has increased over 110 percent. Coupled with the $10.4 million in Michigan wages and $31.6 million in Michigan goods and services Amtrak invested in during Fiscal Year 2012, rail is proving to be a worthwhile investment for our state.
A portion of the Governor’s proposed transportation funding will support public transportation and non-motorized projects to the extent allowable under the state’s constitution – no more than 10% of the transportation budget. In that budget, there is $100.8 million in new funding for public transportation including rail and bus transit operations.
This new funding will play a significant role in moving our state forward. Investments in public transportation and non-motorized transportation are key in building a complete transportation system for our state.
The options are on the table. It is up to our legislators to pick the right plan to move Michigan forward with a complete transportation system.
By: Dan Sommerville, Transportation For Michigan Fellow