Transportation Spending Is Blasted

February 11, 2005
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Editor’snote: This is the second story in a two-part series examining the Michigan Land Use Institute’s “Follow the Money” report.)

GRAND RAPIDS — In its highly critical report of the state’s economic development policy, the Michigan Land Use Institute said billions of taxpayer dollars have subsidized projects that not only promise to create jobs, but also directly create sprawl that pours past core cities and existing suburbs into formerly pristine areas.

The study reported ten billion of those dollars took that route in 2001 alone, and transportation spending didn’t wiggle out from under the institute’s microscope.

One example of what MLUI considers an ongoing bad investment that Lansing made has evolved from the Transportation Economic Development Fund. It was created in 1987 to build roads, streets, highways and other infrastructure that would support new jobs.

But the institute reported that $297 million of the $382 million the fund has spent since 1988 has gone to new ’burbs and rural areas, while core cities and older suburbs have only received $85 million from the fund over those years. The report said the state handed over $25 million to Auburn Hills, or $1,250 for each resident of the city that was incorporated in 1993, while it dished out $23 million to an aging Detroit for an average of $25 per resident.

The report, appropriately called “Follow the Money,” showed that new locales with few taxpayers have gotten 78 percent of those transportation dollars, while heavily populated areas with a lot of taxpayers have received only 22 percent.

The institute also considers M-6 to be another awful state investment.

“We think it’s the solution to the 20th century’s supposed problems. We think it’s an answer to a problem that has already passed,” said Keith Schneider, MLUI deputy director.

Also known as the South Beltline, the 20-mile highway opened a few months ago, cost $700 million to build, and gives commuters a southern path to bypass Grand Rapids.

“It’s a $700-million investment that could have been spent in a whole lot of different ways to improve transportation for the 21st century. It isn’t a congestion reliever. It’s going to be a congestion creator,” said Schneider.

The MLUI report had high praise for the way Grand Rapids has developed economically since 1990. Contrary to how the state has spent money, the institute said the mix of public and private dollars that has gone into developments here has been well spent.

“All this public and private investment is yielding tremendous results here in Grand Rapids and fitting this city to a 21st-century future in which neighborhoods, property values, jobs, proximity, and the way you feel about your place is improving. It’s remarkable,” said Schneider.

“Where is the state making its major investment in this region? In the $700 million South Beltline, which is undoing what the city is doing,” he added.

Schneider said every beltline has a history of sapping growth from a core city and then scattering people in shotgun fashion throughout a countryside. He felt confident the South Beltline would follow the same pattern, and those transportations dollars — which he said could have been spent on a multitude of better projects — would create more sprawl here.

“Sprawl is an anachronism in human history and we’re finding out all the various sundry costs and consequences of it, from being the fattest state in the country to having declining incomes,” he said.

“I mean, there are winners and losers, and most of us are losers out of it, to the kind of divides between people and the kind of places people want.”    

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