Column: When you fix those damn roads, include mobility for all

August 26, 2019 12:08 pm

CATA bus in Lansing | Susan J. Demas

Michigan has a transportation funding problem, and it’s been with us for years. We don’t invest enough in our system, and when we do, it doesn’t help everybody. This dysfunction has led us to the point where we need to invest at least $2.5 billion annually to “fix the damn roads.”

As bad as they are, this problem is about more than just the condition of our roads. Our current system was designed around the goal of moving private vehicles quickly instead of moving people safely and efficiently. If you are a person with a disability, a senior citizen who no longer drives or someone who cannot afford the high cost of owning a car in Michigan, public transit and mobility options are absolute necessities.

Mobility for All Michigan is a coalition of stakeholders working for a transportation system that focuses on moving people safely and efficiently, regardless of their mode of travel. As Michigan’s Sept. 30 budget deadline draws closer, we urge lawmakers to take all transportation users and needs into account when they make their funding decisions.

At the very least, any Fiscal Year 2020 budget plan must not reduce funding for transit and non-motorized options from the current distribution model. Right now, local transportation agencies are required to spend 1% of their state road funding dollars on non-motorized projects. In addition, transit and rail are guaranteed a certain percentage of funds under the distribution formula in Public Act 51 of 1951

Continued funding for public transit agencies to provide bus and para-transit service is critical: It provides access to work, school, doctors, local stores and much more. Public transit agencies that provide bus service and para-transit services for people with disabilities are already hurting, especially in rural areas, because funding has not kept pace with costs. 

As a result, some agencies are reducing services and even eliminating routes. The state must continue to support these services so those who cannot drive due to disability, age or means can get to work and the doctor’s office. 

At the same time, this budget is an important opportunity to use our road dollars strategically — for better traffic safety measures and to invest in mobility systems, not just pavement, that make Michigan a more attractive place to live, work and play for all people.

By wisely investing our road dollars now, we see the opportunity for a more vibrant Michigan — one that is prepared for the future of mobility and moves Michigan forward. One that moves people, not just cars and one that builds communities, not just lanes. 

To build this Michigan, we need to create sustainable new revenue at the state level. Bonds, tax shifts and one-time sales will not be able to dig the state out of 50 years of poor infrastructure investment. The state then needs to spend that revenue in new ways. Before rebuilding roads designed in the 20th century, we should use this opportunity to strategically invest in a transportation system that incorporates complete streets, efficient design and new mobility.

Complete streets, with features such as safe pedestrian crossings, accessible bus stops, bike lanes and wheelchair curb ramps, allow people to safely travel however they choose, whether by transit, buses, bike, car or foot. 

Efficient design addresses congestion and routes holistically. Studies show you cannot build your way out of congestion. Instead, better design — whether that is shrinking vehicle lanes or adding a hardened shoulder — creates safer and more efficient roadways.

This also is a pivotal time, as we start to address connected vehicles and infrastructure, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. Now is the time to plan for the future by investing in infrastructure that works with the changes these technologies will bring. 

As the budget deadline approaches, it’s time to ensure that transit and non-motorized options continue to see their current funding levels. We must make sure that our most vulnerable residents can continue to commute and head to necessary appointments safely. 

Let’s also begin the next discussion: how we get real sustainable revenue to build a Michigan that supports residents of all needs, and attracts those who want the freedom to choose how they travel.

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Sean Hammond
Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond is deputy policy director for Michigan Environmental Council, representing Mobility for All Michigan. Coalition members include: Amalgamated Transit Union, Disability Network / Michigan, League of Michigan Bicyclists, Michigan Association of Planning, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan Public Transit Association and Transportation Riders United.