Transportation shifts at all levels provide opportunities for community voices to be heard

From the winter 2020 executive order establishing the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification followed by governmental appointments in the fall, to the 2021 national-level developments including the Senate’s approval of Midwest-native Pete Buttigieg as the secretary of transportation, the focus on the importance of transportation remains a priority. For politicians and community members alike, this is an on-going area of focus.

Looking down the road

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) website, the 2021 - 2025 Five-Year Transportation Program (MDOT Program) is “an integrated multi-modal program that continues to implement the goals and policies outlined by the State Transportation Commission (STC), emphasizing preservation of the transportation system and providing safe mobility to Michigan's citizens.”

Separating the state into seven regions — Superior, North, Bay, Grand, Metro, University and Southwest —the MDOT Program includes the Rebuilding Michigan program. Updated Jan. 21, theMDOT Program’s objective is to “present anticipated investments across all modes as early in the planning process as possible, supporting successful program delivery, encouraging local coordination, and guaranteeing opportunities for meaningful public input.”

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation website

The MDOT Program highlights projects focusing on highway improvements, rail and aeronautics enhancements, public transportation, aviation and passenger transportation initiatives. These encompass bridge and road work as well as larger-scale, multi-county and even state-wide projects.

One on-going highway project is the I-196 freeway corridor improvements occurring in the Grand region. Continuing into 2021, according to the MDOT Program, the next phases of this project within Kent County include the rebuilding and widening of the I-196 bridges over Plymouth Avenue and the completion of changes to the eastbound I-196/East Beltline Avenue interchange. From there, the project will expand to continue to focus on portions of the I-196 freeway extending into both Allegan and Ottawa counties, building upon aspects also completed in 2020.

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation’s Facebook page dated 11/8/19

While most are aware of these types of projects, many may not realize the other aspects of MDOT’s scope. At the statewide-level, the Central Signal Control System (CSCS) Expansion project seeks to develop a “safer, more efficient transportation system throughout the state.” By converting approximately 1,000 locations to the CSCS, it will improve efficiencies, reduce costs and assist with information-gathering as well as decision-making. The centralized system will “allow the state to quickly detect and mitigate traffic signal issues” and “allow MDOT to remotely determine malfunctioning signals.”

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation’s Facebook page dated 11/8/19

Engaging off dry land

While looking at improvements and safety concerns, the waterways and skies need to be considered as well. Through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) provides entitlement and discretionary grant funding to airports throughout the country. The Five-Year Program explains “[i]t is expected over the next five years $600 million in federal and state funds will be invested in the federal AIP.” This funding will provide aid for pavement maintenance and capital enhancements to approximately 226 public-use airports. “Of the 226 eligible airports, 95 receive federal entitlement funding as part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.”

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Ferryboat Formula Program, through funds included within the Highway Program Investment Strategy, assists with the maintenance of the state’s ferry system. Subject to the availability of federal, state, local and private funding, the Ferryboat Formula Program, as well as the Marine Passenger Program, seek to assist with the upkeep of docks, terminals and vessels. Looking at the 2021 - 2025 period, funding changes are a concern for this program, which will impact the needed servicing as well as its sustainability as a whole. It is reported that “due to the small amount of state and federal capital funding available for the Marine Passenger Program, deterioration of the locally owned infrastructure over the life of this program is likely.”

Projects in response to COVID-19

While changes in funding, public transit ridership and air travel may be occurring, there are several areas that have secured much-needed funding and are responding to new challenges. Another project highlighted within the MDOT Program is the Office of Passenger Transportation’s (OPT) Passenger Transportation COVID-19 Response Plan. Funded through the CARES Act, this project will focus on providing communication-related to public transit and its impact on both economic and social health. The OPT Plan will also help transportation organizations in rural areas with developing emergency response plans specifically addressing COVID-19. Additionally, in response to the quick shifts that transit service providers needed to make over the past several months, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) will be addressed. A MaaS system “can provide essential information in real time and make it easier to plan a transit trip.” Providing contactless systems can also improve rider and transit employee safety. Examples of these new solutions include contactless payment tools, app-based scheduling options, and automated wheelchair securement systems. Locally, The Rapid offers riders the option of securing and maintaining The Wave e-fare card online. Additionally, both the Silver Line and Laker Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes provide Wave care reloading ticket vending machines (TVM) at the terminals.

Seeking community input

MDOT is encouraging residents to be heard as it relates to the projects contained within the Program. Individuals are able to participate in the public comment period through Feb. 25 by email, postal mail, or by using an online comment form. All contact options and details can be found here. A summary of the received comments will be made available on the MDOT website by March 1.

The Rapid is also looking to further engage with the community. Beginning Jan. 19, The Rapid launched its Community Conversation series scheduled to take place each month on Facebook Live. For those unable to attend or access Facebook, The Rapid encourages people to reach out through more traditional methods, including phone or postal mail.

Voices for Transit is a nine-part series highlighting public transportation in Greater Grand Rapids by exploring the issues that diverse communities face, lifting up the voices of residents, employers, and stakeholders.

This series is underwritten by The Rapid and is editorially independent in our exploration of these themes.

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 15 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing, and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.

Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]
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