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E-M:/ Detroit Commuter rail funded, NEPA upheld in transportation budget

October 1, 2002
Transportation Bill Signed By Engler; Detroit Commuter rail funded, NEPA upheld

        Effective today, Governor Engler signed the Transportation Budget, (Public Act 561). The law is a positive step for public transit, but the bill may still be in jeopardy. Final dollars used in the bill are contingent upon the passage of the diesel tax increase. If the increase is not passed, the budget will have to be amended.

Commuter Rail
        Engler authorized spending up to 1 million dollars on the final phase of the Lansing to Detroit Commuter Rail Study. In recent months, the study provided numbers on expected ridership and concluded the commuter rail would be implemented in segments, with the first phase connecting Ann Arbor to Detroit, stopping at the Detroit International Airport. This is an important  development for the commuter rail study and southeast Michigan. Having a rail system that links downtowns will make the area more attractive to businesses looking to relocate as well as help mitigate regional congestion.

Upholding the National Environmental Policy Act.
        Language in the budget assured residents of Dearborn and southwest Detroit that the Michigan Department of Transportation may not make improvements to further the construction of the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal (DIFT) outside the existing railyard until the Environmental Impact Statements has been completed. MDOT wanted appropriations that would provide for development outside the existing railyard. Representatives Scott Shackleton (R-Sault Ste. Marie), and Belda Garza (D-Detroit) worked with Kathryn Savoie of Communities for a Better Rail Alternative to assure that the process was not streamlined.

Diesel Tax Increase Still Likely
        The Transportation Budget was signed with the assumption that the Diesel Tax Increase would be passed after the November election. Although increasing the diesel tax to improve Michigan's lousy roads seems like a good idea, Englers proposal would not follow the law, which distributes the money to state highways, local roads, and public transit according to a pre-determined formula. Instead, the additional 4 cents (which would raise $50 M annually) would be dedicated to state roads. Under this proposal public transit would lose an annual 4.4 million dollars statewide and  local governments across the state would lose over 14 million dollars each year, leaving them struggling to patch their roads and fix their bridges.

For more information please give me a call
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Dusty Fancher, Policy Specialist
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette Drive Suite 2A
ph 517-487-9539 fax 517-487-9541