Connecting Economic Development and Transportation at the Trans4M Meeting of the Whole

Trans4M works to revitalize Michigan communities, connect people to opportunity, and spark a healthier economy through transportation policy reform. Inherent in our mission, is work to connecting transportation and economic development. But it can sometimes be easy to forget how interconnected transportation and economic development are.

We held our first Meeting of the Whole for 2014 on March 21st in Midtown Detroit. Our theme was Transportation and Economic Development, with a goal to renew the coalition’s focus on that connection into the coming year. During the event, a panel discussion highlighted ways that the private and public sectors are working to capitalize on transit oriented development, state-level funding programs, as well as the importance of thinking about transportation through a lens of placemaking and regionalism.

Transit Connecting People, Jobs and Commerce

Tim Fischer, recent Trans4M alumnus and new Chief Administrative Office of M-1 Rail, started the conversation by highlighting ways that M-1 Rail is catalyzing transit oriented development and its plans to connect people to jobs and commerce along Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The corridor is expected to see 2.8 billion dollars in development, which will spur business along the corridor, create jobs and add to the city’s tax base.

.Developments along the corridor are already underway. Just this week a 10 million dollar performance-based loan from the State was approved for M-1. Developers working throughout the corridor, from Techtown to Capitol Park, are counting on M-1 Rail to attract residents and businesses. The map below highlights investments along the line that are completed or in progress. A myriad of residential, commercial and office developments illustrates the spark of economic activity that is already occurring in anticipation of a fixed-rail transit system.


 This map indicates with blue circles, the amount of real estate investments that are completed or in progress along the line. The size of the circle corresponds with the size of investment, ranging from $20 million to over $1.25 billion in some areas. Data courtesy M1 Rail. Click to enlarge.

M-1 Rail is also helping to build a foundation for a potential bus rapid transit system that would run along Woodward from downtown to Pontiac.

MDOT’s Economic Development Programs

Mike Kapp, Administrator of The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Office of Economic Development, discussed MDOT’s efforts to spur economic development through transportation during the panel. Specifically, he highlighted the Transportation and Economic Development Fund (TEDF) and the Multimodal Design and Delivery (M2D2) project.

Enacted in 1987, the TEDF was created to assist in the funding of highway, road, and street projects necessary to support economic growth. The program’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for economic growth and enhance the state’s ability to compete in the global market along with improving quality of life for Michigan residents. However, after our panel discussion with Kapp, It was quite clear to transit advocates that this fund addresses an outdated and narrow view of connecting economic development and transportation. The only eligible uses are road projects or road improvements. To date, the fund hasn’t supported public transit or non-motorized transportation despite the widespread economic impacts that we know exist when investing in multi-modal transportation. However, Kapp mentioned that Act 51 agencies have never applied to this fund for public transit or non-motorized transportation projects, and that transit-related projects, such as constructing bus shelters, could be funded by the grant.

“This is not your father’s department of transportation,” Kapp explained as he began to describe M2D2, a recent MDOT program spearheaded by engineers and designed to change its internal culture around Complete Streets, multi-modal transportation and economic development. As we discussed in an earlier blog post, the project aims to change the way the department handles planning, designing, constructing and maintaining Michigan roads. These new strategies are reflective of the name: multimodal. Through M2D2, staff will be trained to create and maintain corridors to move goods and people through all modes of transportation. There is a schedule in place, stakeholder groups have been informed and a stronger curriculum is to be developed in the next few weeks.

Placemaking and Regionalism

Our third panelist, John Melcher, Associate Director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at MSU, focused on two topics that Trans4Mers love talking about: regionalism and placemaking. Melcher discussed the importance for agencies, governments and transit providers to think in terms of regional economics, not city economics. “Transportation is a tool”, he said, “It’s a tool that gives folks access to markets and gives us a relationship to our housing and communities.” He stressed the importance of with collaborative thinking – entering situations with a mindset to see relationship that we had not seen before.
The group discussion provided a great opportunity to learn more about projects already in progress in the region, such as M1, but also gain information on how to utilize resources, like the TEDF, to continue our work to connect economic development and transportation. The meeting inspired Trans4M’s 2014 advocacy agenda and sparked the effort to find new ways to connect transportation with economic development.

Written by Liz Treutel and Kajal Ravani – Trans4M Fellows


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