Transportation funding has been a hot topic this spring in the legislature, but lately, it seems a solution is further away than we previously thought.
Recent highway expansion projects being pushed by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and included in the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) 2040 Regional Transportation Plan may be detrimental to efforts to increase transportation funding. Legislators are reconsidering their support for increased transportation funding when they see exorbitant expansion projects like the I-94 / I-75 Interstate widening projects and the I-96 / Latson Road Interchange project – priced at $4 billion and $25 million, respectively – take precedence over maintaining our existing dilapidated transportation infrastructure.
Last January during the State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder called for an additional $1.2 billion in transportation funding. This gave transportation advocates and Michigan residents hope that a better transportation system was in Michigan’s near future. However, legislators failed to meet the Governor’s July 1 deadline when they broke for recess until September. The break, that began June 17, leaves many questions unanswered for Michigan’s transportation future.
In recent months, it seemed that some funding solution would be possible. There were a number of House bills introduced and discussed in the House Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure. Many options were generally discussed in the Senate Infrastructure Modernization Committee, although none soliciting a vote from committee members. The committee heard testimony and discussion on the following four transportation funding reform bills since mid-May: House Bill 4630and HB 4632, which would increase registration fees; and HB 4358 and HB 4359 which would eliminate the current excise tax on gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas (when used for motor fuel) and diesel fuel and replace it with a wholesale tax. Long committee meeting agendas even warranted the addition of two supplemental meetings in the past two weeks.
Between the failure of the legislature to report out any of these bills and SEMCOG’s Long Range Plan highway expansion projects, many Michiganders are left to ask, what are Michigan legislators planning to do to reach the goal of $1.2 billion for transportation funding?
While the funding reform that we were hoping to see this spring has not reached fruition, many small successes have occurred over the last six months for Michigan’s transportation system:
- Trans4M core members and advocates of regional transit forcefully opposed HB 4637, which would allow communities to opt-out of the new Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in Southeast Michigan, and would have likely been detrimental to its success. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure heard testimony on this bill, but after wide opposition, didn’t take a vote.
- On June 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out HB 4112 and it was ordered enrolled the following day. The bill will allocate $15.4 million to the Comprehensive Transportation Fund; $10 million would come from a Federal TIGER IV grant and go toward Detroit multimodal projects, while the remaining $5.4 million would be go toward statewide bus operation. An additional $2 million will go toward the municipal credit program for public transportation development.
- Senate Bill 184, a transportation budget bill, was reported out by the House Conference Committee earlier this month. If passed, the budget will include $19 million to cover costs of the state’s takeover and operation and maintenance of the Wolverine Rail line which runs between Pontiac and Chicago (not previously included in the House budget bill); $121.3 million for the federal aid match requirement by diverting general sales tax revenue to the State Trunkline Fund (one-time GF/GP funding); and $115 million for the Priority Roads Investment program, one-time restricted funds for road and bridge construction programs.
- The new Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has gotten off the ground and has already held five meetings.
- Michigan commuter rail projects: Ann Arbor-Detroit Regional Rail Project and the Washtenaw and Livingston Line (WALLY) project continue to progress.
- Lansing area’s Tri County Regional Planning Commission voted 10-9 to support a $595,000 Federal grant which will allow Indian Trails to increase E Lansing – Ann Arbor service to 12 round daily round trips. Ingham County Commissioner and Trans4M core member, Brian McGrain was the tenth vote.
These successes represent progress in Michigan. The big challenge of additional transportation funding at the state level remains. We will undoubtedly see the conversation continue when the legislature resumes in September; however, the Governor may need to demand accountability from lawmakers. It’s possible that a compromise between lawmakers and planners will be needed to address appropriation priorities. We need to ensure that funds are spent wisely. Expansion projects are only going to add to the infrastructure we are unable to afford, therefore, our funding allocations should prioritize maintaining and repairing our roads and bridges that are already crumbling beneath our wheels.
Reinvesting now will save Michigan from increased future costs estimated at $25 billion, save money on maintenance, improve safety on the roads, provide economic development opportunities and improve quality of life for everyone.
Stay tuned to the Trans4M blog for updates as the conversation on transportation funding reform and priorities continues.
Written by Kajal Ravani and Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellows