ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Washtenaw County residents recently filed into Ann Arbor’s SPARK office for a community forum about advancing Michigan’s public transportation.
Trans4M, an advocacy group whose mission since 2009 has been to improve and promote transit throughout Michigan, championed the event, which was just one of 17 forum meetingsscheduled this year.
“State funding reform in general is hard to change,” said Kathryn Gray, the event’s coordinator. “Where should it go?”
Throughout the night, attendees worked together in groups on activities to discuss the answer to that very question.
What should Michigan be doing with its transportation budget? Where should the money go?
“Basically, the only way to get around the state is driving," said a woman while thumbing down a blue sticker on Traverse City on a map of Michigan.
In the map activity, sticker colors connoted its placer’s work, vacation or school locus. Most group maps showed participants vacationing to Chicago, northern Michigan and downtown Detroit.
Other activities included groups ranking which Michigan transportation policy groups and organizations had the best vision, and a how-would-you-invest-Michigan’s-transportation-budget questionnaire.
The questionnaire’s actual results, as in, what Michigan really puts its money into, disheartened most in attendance.
“I’m going to go on record and say we need to change the rules,” announced Eli Cooper to the crowd while presenting his group’s questionnaire answers.
As it stands, Michigan law states that 90 percent of funding has to go into road/bridge operations, routine road/bridge maintenance, major road/bridge rebuilding and new road construction.
The questionnaire’s remaining categories, mostly dedicated to bus and light rail developments, garnered a large sum of group monopoly money. That same category, it turns out, is allocated the remaining 10 percent of Michigan’s transportation spending.
“Not a surprise," blurted one attendee.
“There should be no money for new roads until we can fix the ones we have,” said one gentleman during his group’s presentation. “We need to take care of the existent system.”
The forum, despite traces of jaded advocacy, ended on a high note when Jason Morgan, a chirpy and poindexter-ish staff member for Congressman John Dingle, announced that Michigan had just received $640,000 for preliminary studies and environmental testing for theWALLY initiative, which is for establishing commuter rail between Washtenaw and Livingston county.
For folks interested in attending upcoming Trans4m Community Forums, there are still 10 more scheduled throughout the state.