Transportation funding means more than roads and bridges

With winter just around the corner, the nerve-rattling, wheel-bending state of Michigan’s derelict roads and bridges will soon be even harder to ignore. Simply put, a substantial increase in transportation funding is unavoidable.

Nearly everyone wants state lawmakers to pass a transportation funding package this fall. But even with time running out, our legislators would be wise to remember that their decisions in the next couple of months will affect our state for decades to come. That’s why they must seize this opportunity to invest in our complete transportation system, not just roads and bridges.

Frankly, our state has been too slow to recognize a new reality: A modern transportation system is a necessary ingredient for a thriving economy. To attract and retain a talented workforce — which Gov. Snyder has said is “probably the single most important issue” for Michigan’s economic future — we need to provide 21st-century transportation options.

That means making communities more walkable and bike-friendly, and making public transit more reliable and accessible. It means creating places where today’s workers want to put down roots or launch a business.

Two thirds of millennials say access to reliable public transportation is among the top three criteria they would use to decide where to live. Having a car simply isn’t as important to them as it was to other generations. Demand in Michigan for public transit and passenger rail is growing each year. MDOT statistics show rail has seen an increased annual ridership of 78% between 2002 and 2013.

Unfortunately, we haven’t made the investments needed to meet that growing demand. Last time Michigan passed a substantial transportation funding increase, back in 1997, all the revenue went to roads. As a result, the state’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund (CTF) has missed out on more than $15 million every year since—a total of $259 million in lost opportunity.

That’s a huge blow to our economy and quality of life, because the CTF pays for programs such as passenger rail and public transit, which we must support to become a more appealing place for young professionals. The fund opens new opportunities for Michiganders without personal transportation—in both urban and rural areas—by supporting Michigan’s 78 public transit agencies, which last year provided more than 260,000 rides per day.

In part because of that 1997 mistake, Michigan is quickly falling behind our Midwest neighbors in providing the convenient, modern public transportation we need to stay competitive. Meanwhile, talented workers are flocking to Minneapolis and Cleveland — and businesses are following. Along Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue, the Healthline bus rapid transit line has catalyzed over $6.3 billion in private development, while boosting transit ridership along the corridor. In Minneapolis, the revitalization of Nicolet Mall — a corridor open only to pedestrians, bikes and transit — has boosted development and spurred population growth.

There are some hopeful signs at home. The new Silver Line bus rapid transit system in Grand Rapids and construction of the M-1 Rail in Detroit are major steps forward. Two commuter rail projects and several bus rapid transit projects in the works have the potential to greatly enhance the quality of life in metro areas across the state. A funding package that supports our full transportation system will help move those exciting projects forward and add to the $1.3 billion in economic output public transportation already provides for our state.

And there’s more at stake than how we move people. If lawmakers use the traditional funding formula to support our full transportation system, they’ll boost the freight rail system that is crucial for Michigan’s agricultural economy. They’ll support improvements to the waterways that each year move more than 200 million tons of cargo, supporting 65,000 Michigan shipping and storage jobs. And they’ll bolster the harbors, marinas and public boat launches that pump $3.6 billion into the state economy annually and are responsible for 50,000 jobs.

So, yes—the Legislature needs to get the job done. But they also have a rare chance to lay a solid foundation for Michigan’s economic future by supporting our full transportation system.

Lawmakers, please do transportation funding right, not just right now.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 11/13/2014 - 11:21am
Republicans control the entire show in Michigan. It's a fantasy to hope or believe that transportation funding for anything but roads and bridges is going to increase.
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:53am
Well, EB, I guess this fantasy just came true. The senate just passed a transportation funding bill that will invest more into the comprehensive transportation fund which funds our public transit agencies, provides revenue to our rail I guess all is not lost. Investing wisely in our complete transportation system is not a republican or a democrat issue, it is an economic development issue that they both support. Doing it right will make Michigan a truly attractive state for the millennials and provide needed transportation options for all of us!
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:59am
This argument is specious and based on junk prognostications and a self-serving agenda. Invest in what is, not what might be. Siphoning off road and bridge money to aggrandize and appease the few is what has already happened so our roads and bridges are horrible. The ridiculous second Detroit/Windsor bridge and light rail or commuter rail studies and engineering costs have taken funds to date. People buy fuels to use the roads and pay the tax. If one wants the paths and bicycle lanes increased then let them pay for it like auto and truck users do. Let them volunteer their money, their time, their resources. High paying jobs filled with talented people are not stifled by a lack of alternative transportation. Let them buy an electric car and get around with no taxes. Road tax is for roads. Rail shipping is already subsidized by the federal government with our money thrown in. It is slow and inefficient with that money so trucks dominate. If Michiganders are forced by law to pay even more for roads and bridges with tax then that is precisely where it must be spent. Tourism using the roads and no other method of transportation here is the number one source of revenue. Not some 1/4 full fast bus, paths or crime plagued rail system. These systems on other cities and states are always huge money hogs with huge subsidies to keep them running. Fuel taxes are for roads and bridges only. Not some wish list or pie in the sky Utopian dream world that isn't reality. Can this man be honest? The narrative has a environmentalist agenda behind it. Cars and trucks are evil. 19th century methods are good especially in January and February. Just look at the Chinese citizens.
Jeff Counts
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 3:15pm
I wish you guys would do a story about how much the tax increase would cost the average driver. I calculated it for myself and it's under $10 a week. The tax would be worth it to have smoother sailing when I drive. People rarely do the math. You need to do it for them.
John Q. Public
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:34pm
I wish people who don't miss $500 a year would have a little more sympathy for the people for whom that means the kids don't get winter coats and the house temperature has to stay at 64 degrees in the winter.
John Q. Public
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:52pm
"Two thirds of millennials say access to reliable public transportation is among the top three criteria they would use to decide where to live." After reading those push-poll type questions designed to elicit a particular response, I'm not surprised.