Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this story do not necessarily reflect the views of Mode Shift, its managers, editors or leadership.
DETROIT—Government funding – including transportation funding – is a common topic in state and national news lately. And since government funding is typically the result of years, if not decades of legislative compromise, it’s not as straightforward as a personal bank account.
State and federal transportation funding are especially constrained by being divided into smaller bins, each bin with its own requirements and limitations. It’s often a challenge for even the most diehard transportation bureaucrats and advocates to decipher.
And that’s why it’s very frustrating when the media ignores this complexity and publishes misleading stories on transportation funding.
One recent example is from the Motor City Muckraker’s Steve Neavling, “Detroit spent $45 million on sidewalk ramps to nowhere while sinking into debt.”
The city of Detroit can’t afford to keep most of its fire stations open. The over-strapped police department often fails to show up to emergencies. And nearly half of the city’s 88,000 streetlights don’t work.
But that didn’t stop the city from spending nearly $45 million on more than 27,000 curb ramps for people with disabilities.
Yes, the city of Detroit is required to spend millions installing ADA sidewalk ramps as a result of a 2006 court settlement. The City is hiring firms to build the ramps using a mix of mostly federal road funding matched with state road funding.
Neither of these funding sources have any effect on Detroit “sinking into debt.”
And the City cannot redistribute this money to fire stations or police as Neavling implies. That’s not only impossible from a policy standpoint, it would violate Article IX Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution.
All specific taxes, except general sales and use taxes and regulatory fees, imposed directly or indirectly on fuels sold or used to propel motor vehicles upon highways and to propel aircraft and on registered motor vehicles and aircraft shall, after the payment of necessary collection expenses, be used exclusively for transportation purposes as set forth in this section.
As Detroit has installed many miles of bike lanes, we’ve heard comments that the money would be better spent on public safety. We’ve explained that transportation funding is for transportation only. Often this funding is even more limited to features like bike facilities, and if Detroit doesn’t use that money, some other city will. The people we’ve spoken with get that once they learn the limitations.
So it’s extra frustrating when media sources mislead the public into thinking something else.
With less fuel taxes being collected these days, it’s as critical as ever that we have an educated public to help shape the discussion on future transportation funding at all levels of government. Nothing is for free and nothing is as simple as some would have you believe.