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E-M:/ Two Weeks, $2 Billion!?!?

Citizen Input Crunched Into a Shockingly Small Window
Get a Word In Edgewise -- Send Your Comments to MDOT by March 24! The Michigan Transportation Funding Study Committee has announced that beginning Thursday a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) will have only two weeks to comment on a 118-page set of recommendations they will make to the Legislature regarding revisions to Public Act 51 of 1951, the state's transportation funding formula.

The study committee has been reviewing material on Michigan's transportation system for 12 months now . . . far beyond their original expections.  Several times since October the study committee has extended its existence citing the drawers full of research they are expected to digest.  Now they expect the 24-member CAC to process all of that information in 15 days -- including weekends.

Michigan's Transportation budget accounts for approximately nine percent of all state spending.  This formula regulates two-thirds of that money and indirectly determines which federal transportation grants we will be eligible for. The formula defines where we will invest nearly $2 billion every year -- new and wider highways or transit and non-motorized transportation alternatives.  

From the start the timing of this process has been woefully lax.   According to PA51 the Governor was to have appointed the study committee by October 1, 1998, a task he did not accomplish until well into 1999.  The committee first met in April of last year.  While the study committee should be applauded for taking its work quite seriously and maintaining a free flow of information between themselves and citizens and interest groups, it must be noted that they did indeed miss their January 1, 2000 deadline for preliminary reports written into law.  To make matters worse, in the summer of 1999 the Governor directed the State Tranportation Commission to appoint a separate body to review the mass transit funding formula contained within PA51.  Arguably this is a usurpation of the responsibility of the study committee established by the Legislature.  This alternative group initially informed the study committee they would have their work completed by November of 1999.  They have yet to report their recommendations to the study committee.

The study committee intends to meet until mid-May -- fervently hoping, I imagine, that the transit study committee will have their job done before the ultimate deadline of July 1, 2000 when a final report is due to the Legislature.  The urgency of this review stems from a September 30, 2000 sunset date in place on the current funding formula.

Initially, the study committee had expected to host hearings on the recommendations around the state, but that is now highly unlikely.  It seems that citizen input will be limited to this two-week opportunity for CAC members and the remaining three committee meetings -- all, incidentally in Lansing and two of the three beginning at 8 a.m.

A citizens coalition called the Michigan Transportation and Land Use Coalition has argued since October that official public input has been marginalized in this process, and the two-week window proves that theory.  The CAC members are supposed to be the best representatives of users of the transportation system, but their critique of the plan can hardly be comprehensive with such a small window of opportunity.  The Legislature should acknowledge this as a potential ramrodding and extend the sunset of the formula, giving citizens and professionals ample time to develop serious comments on the committee recommendations.

The 118-page draft document -- which does not contain any transit recommendations -- is available from MDOT's website.  The CAC will meet for the first time THURSDAY, MARCH 9 at 8 a.m. in the Lansing Center.  Call Ms. Polly Kent of MDOT for more information -- 517-335-2640.  Comments from the CAC are due by March 24, 2000 although public comment will probably be welcomed throughout the process.

Feel free to direct any questions you have about the transportation formula and environmentally sustainable alternatives to

Conan Smith, Land Programs Director at the Michigan Environmental Council:  conanmec@voyager.net 517-487-9539 or to

Mr. Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Coordinator at the Michigan Land Use Institute:  kelly@mlui.org 231-882-4723

Members of the Michigan Transporation and Land Use Coalition may be excellent sources of information as well.  A complete list of coalition members is available at http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/coalition/members.html.

Conan Smith
Land Programs Director
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette, Suite 2A
Lansing, MI  48912
Ph. (517) 487-9539
Fx. (517) 487-9541