Saturday, July 3, 2010

SEMCOG Swings Toward Transit

You may recall that SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, is our "Metropolitan Planning Organization" (MPO). In the scheme of things these days, MPOs are an important link in the transportation funding chain. All requests for transportation dollars in urban areas like southeast Michigan have to go through an MPO before any federal funds will trickle down. And before any such requests make their way to Washington, they have to go through a public comment period. So Wednesday's request for public comment is an important phase in SEMCOG's latest revision of plans.

It's sad, though. Really sad that SEMCOG has to make these revisions. You see, Michigan's citizen's haven't come up with enough money to match the federal grants available to us, so SEMCOG has had to cut out some expensive projects and go for more modest ones. Most of the projects we can't afford to match have been "postponed" 2-4 years, but of course if we Michiganders don't decide to invest a little more in our infrastructure, they'll be postponed again. And again...

What's being cut out? Here are the biggies:

  • Replacing the Fort Street bridge over the Rouge River in Detroit (we lose $38.6M federal funds to save $6.7M of Michigan taxpayers' hard-earned money);
  • Just saying "No" to $30.0M federal dollars to save $4.6M Michigan money for reconstructing 3 miles of VanDyke in Macomb County;
  • By turning down $16.4M for M-53 reconstruction and intersection improvements in Macomb, we save an incredible $3.6M for Michigan.
  • In Washtenaw County, we're only saving $1.3M of our dollars by foregoing $8.8M federal dollars for rehabilitating a mile of US-12 through Saline.

In all, SEMCOG is waving off $100,328,000 of federal money in canceled projects. But wait! Not all of that is lost, because that Michigan money, together with another half million of state money, is being invested in fewer, less expensive projects. And instead of being all highway-oriented, most the added projects are more sustainable transportation modes. Here's what each area would get if this proposal is approved:

  • The Detroit area: new buses for SMART, computers for DDOT, a new vehicle for the People Mover, and a freight rail spur to serve the river port ($1,505,000: $1,220,000 federal, $226,000 state, $59,000 local);
  • In the wider SEMCOG area: a hand with Livingston County's LETS mobility assistance, vans for Boysville, and a transportation demand system for Michigan Rideshare; ($424,000: $343,000 federal, $81,000 state)
  • Dearborn: help to build its new rail+bus station ($28,204,000 all federal high-speed rail funds);
  • Washtenaw County: a hand with rebuilding the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, together with improvements for some heavily-used bus stops; and operating assistance for People's Express in the rural western parts of the county ( $1,134,000 $938,000 federal, $12,000 state, and $184,000 from AATA "farebox" revenues). In addition to the transit assistance, this proposal acknowledges Ann Arbor's plan to spend $2.5 million of its local funds to reconstruct three blocks of Stone School Road, between the I-94 overpass and Ellsworth Road; and requests $1,099,000 in unmatched federal funds for "signal interconnect" in various locations along Packard, Hewitt, Carpenter, Ellsworth, and Michigan Ave.

Here's a table summarizing the proportions of road to non-road investment:

Road Totals $2,344,000 7% $21,343,000 98% $2,277,000 90% $25,965,000 46%
Non-road Totals $29,644,000 93% $329,000 2% $243,000 10% $30,216,000 54%

State and local funding is still overwhelmingly road-oriented, but federal money is being channeled primarily to projects oriented toward public transportation: buses, vans, rail and stations, software for transit management. Way to go, SEMCOG!

You can read the Public Notice and download a PDF of the details at Remember, though: these are just proposals. SEMCOG has opened the public comment phase until July 29, 2010, so let them know how you feel about this.

  • Mail: SEMCOG Information Center, 535 Griswold, Suite 300, Detroit, MI 48226;
  • Faxes: 313-961-4869;
  • Email:

Comments can be made in person at the following meetings, all held at SEMCOG offices: Buhl Building, 535 Griswold, Suite 300, Detroit, MI 48226.

  • Transportation Improvement Program Development Committee (TIPDC), Thursday, July 15, 2010, 10:00 a.m.; discuss proposed actions and recommend Transportation Advisory Council support;
  • Transportation Advisory Council (TAC), Wednesday, July 28, 2010; 9:30 a.m.; present and discuss actions and recommend Executive Committee approval; and
  • Executive Committee, Thursday, July 29, 2010; 1 p.m.; discuss amendment and FY 2011-2014 TIP and take final action to approve.