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Welcome to SEMCOG's Think Regional/Act Local blog! SEMCOG is the only organization in Southeast Michigan that brings together all governments to solve regional challenges and enhance the quality of life for the seven-county regions 4.7 million residents. With this regional perspective in mind, we work with member local governments to sustain our regions reputation as a great place to work, play, and do business.

 

Our panel of SEMCOG staff bloggers will post daily to this blog, discussing SEMCOG's data, federal and state legislative issues, and environmental and fiscal sustainability best practices for local governments all with the goal of creating a successful future for the region.

 

 

Think Regional/Act Local

Input needed

(Legislation, Public transportation, Regionalism, Transportation) Permanent link

With legislation recently introduced in the State House and Senate to increase badly needed transportation funds – roads and transit – now is a perfect time to speak up and let your elected officials know what you think. A regional online survey sponsored by SEMCOG and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition (MAC), gives you with an opportunity to provide valuable guidance to elected leadership in Lansing and help shape how we will maintain and improve the transportation system. You can take the online survey directly, or by visiting www.semcog.org or www.mac-web.org.

 

Our infrastructure needs are estimated to cost $2.8 billion per year over the next 20 years, with only $1.4 billion currently available from federal, state, and local sources. There are many causes for this large gap, including the general economic downturn, fewer vehicle miles traveled, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and the fact that the gas tax has not been increased since 1997. In addition, we are the only large metropolitan area in the country without a coordinated transit system that serves the needs of the region.

 

The brief survey asks nine questions pertaining to two transportation-related topics:

  • The importance of investing in maintaining and improving Michigan’s roads and bridges; and
  • The importance of expanding public transit in Southeast Michigan.

This is an opportunity to send a message to our elected leadership. It’s the best chance we have had in many years to obtain additional needed funding. Take advantage of it.

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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What if?

(Legislation, Transportation) Permanent link

I have recently written about the current status of the transportation reauthorization situation in Washington. The House and the Senate still continue to move their respective bills through their respective processes, potentially towards a conference committee to work out their differences and present the president with a bill he can sign. There is a long way to go, given the current short-term extension expires on March 31; however, if they get together, it is possible they could come to an agreement with perhaps a extension of the current bill. 

 

I still feel that there is too much to do and the differences are too great, especially in an election year, to end up with a new, multi-year transportation bill. However, if we did, what can we look for? What are the things both houses agree on in principle that a conference could potentially work out?

 

There appears to be some sort of agreement on these points:

  • There will be no new funding, no earmarks.
  • The current federal funding programs will be consolidated into fewer than 20, and many will be eliminated.
  • Local governments will lose some voice in the transportation decision-making process at the expense of states.
  • The environmental review process will be streamlined.
  • Performance-based planning will be introduced.

The one that scares me most is the potential loss of voice by the local elected officials at the expense of the states or the administration/Congress itself. Either piece of legislation would redefine the size of community where the MPO planning process would be required, eliminating it in the smaller urban areas, effectively diminishing the role of the elected officials in those smaller urban areas. Funding for the other larger urban areas would also be restructured to have more dollars go to the states to make project decisions at the expense of the larger MPOs. With no new dollars and needs everywhere, this sets up a new opportunity for confrontation between states and MPOs as to whose needs are more important. This is not going to be a pretty sight.

 

The next few weeks are going to be key in determining if we are going to get a new bill or not. I suggest that you weigh in now with your own opinion to your congressional representatives. I think both bills are bad bills for Michigan and for Southeast Michigan as they are currently structured. I think the more thoughtful approach would be to continue to explore how additional revenues can be made part of an overall 5-6-year bill and that there be some thoughtful discussion on what the priorities should be for the next several years and see them reflected in new legislation. How long do you think that will take?

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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At last – Action!?

(Legislation, Transportation) Permanent link

Well, in the last couple of weeks, we have seen lots of actions on the political front as both Congress and the Michigan Legislature have been busy introducing various transportation initiatives. But are they for show or for go? Let’s look at them one at a time.

 

At the federal level, both the House and the Senate are working on separate and very different transportation bills. The Senate has proposed a two-year bill at roughly the same funding levels as we have now. It consolidates and eliminates various federal funding categories and gives a bit more flexibility to the states at the expense of local elected officials.

 

The House counter bill is a five-year bill with a bit less per year than the Senate bill. It also consolidates and eliminates lots of federal funding categories and gives the states lots more flexibility at the expense of local elected officials. In addition, the House bill takes the transit program out of the trust fund and makes it beg for general fund dollars every year after a $40 billion one-time funding amount is exhausted. This has raised the ire of Democrats and Republicans. Neither bill includes new revenues – just making us live with the same inadequate funding for either two or five more years!

 

The deadline for action is the end of March. Both bodies have to approve their own bills, be sure they can pay for them (a huge issue, especially in the House), establish a conference committee, work out their differences, and have the President sign in about five weeks. Or pass another extension. My money is on another extension through the election.

 

On the state side, the legislature has introduced a number of bills that implement Governor Snyder’s transportation message from last year. The bills, if approved as introduced, will effectively change the transportation landscape as we know it – it blows it up completely. They change the funding mechanism, the funding distribution, the documentation requirements, mandate efficiencies, and create a regional transit authority in Southeast Michigan. Unlike the federal bills, the state package includes several provisions for additional funds both at the state level and through proposed new local option opportunities. Several bills are moving and one bill– to give county board of commissioners the option of taking over their road commissions, has already passed.

 

The Michigan Legislature and the Governor have shown great courage and intelligence in finally proposing a package that includes both reforms and additional funding. Not every proposal is going to fly, of course. Look for the bills that promote efficiencies and the transit authority bills to move first and the bills that include additional revenue to move later, but hopefully still move. I hope we discuss and debate these bills, but at the end of the day agree on both the amount (has to be large) and the source of additional revenues if we are to improve our transportation infrastructure.

 

The Michigan Legislature and the Governor get it – the Congress does not.

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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Ask the right question and you might get the right answer

(Best Practice, Transportation) Permanent link

Well, by now you have probably read about the 20 bills that have been introduced in the Michigan House and Senate. These bills implement much of Governor Snyder’s transportation message he gave in late 2011. There has been lots of discussion about the bills, especially the ones that propose to raise over $1 billion for badly needed road and transit improvements. In fact, I have read the results of poll after poll reporting that the majority of people do not want to pay more money to improve roads and transit.

 

This is news? Come on. I just replaced the hot water tank in my house after 25 years of service. Did I want to spend more money to replace it? Of course I didn’t. A couple of years ago, I had to replace my roof. Did I want to pay more money to do that? No again. What is my point? Well, if I was to respond to a poll question that asked did I want to pay more money to replace these old capital investments – I would have answered “NO.” But what if the question was, “Do you want hot water in your house?” or “Do you want a roof over your head to keep the rain out?” Well, my obvious response would be “Yes, of course!” Starting to get it?

 

So now, let’s apply this logic to roads.

 

Here is a picture of Road A

Bad Road
Photo: AnnArbor.com


And here is a picture of Road B.

GoodRoad
Photo: SEMCOG

 

Which road do you want to ride on – Road A or Road B?

 

If you choose Road A, then congratulations! You do not have to do anything because chances are you are riding on a lot of these right now. And as an added bonus in the years to come, you will be riding on even more!

 

If you choose Road B – call or write your legislator today and do it often. Tell him or her that you want to ride on more roads like this. By the way, that means that you will have to pay a little more – but won’t it be worth it?

 

Remember, you have to be careful to ask the right question in order to get the right answer!

 

And speaking of questions, I invite you to take SEMCOG’s Pulse of the Region survey on improving the region’s transportation system.

 

Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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