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State Veto Jeopardizes Transit Plan
GRAND RAPIDS — A planned expansion of The Rapid public transit system is in doubt following a veto by Gov. Jennifer Granholm last week of proposed transit tax legislation.
The legislation would have given the Interurban Transit Partnership the green light to apply for more than $14 million in federal funds to proceed with its Great Transit Grand Tomorrows major corridor study.
Now, the study that has been ongoing for two and a half years may not make it to Phase II, which would include preliminary engineering for the expansion. It’s a major setback for the transit authority, said Jennifer Kalczuk, director of communications and external relations for The Rapid. She said the veto makes it “difficult if not impossible” for the transit authority to move ahead on the study.
The vetoed House Bill 4993 would have applied only to the
Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, introduced the bill in July and it was subsequently passed by both the state House and Senate. Kooiman refereed to Granholm’s veto as a “roadblock to better transportation in West Michigan” and an attempt by the governor “to cripple
Kooiman immediately began working on a new bill request that will propose similar legislation this year.
“In the legislative process you often have to negotiate and compromise on things,” he told the Business Journal. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the governor vetoed what we sent her because it didn’t hurt any transit agency in the state — and it helped
“On a regular basis I vote on stuff that impacts only one community; I can’t tell you the number of issues that I’ve voted on that are special legislation for
Had Granholm signed House Bill 4993, the legislation would have cleared the way for the Interurban Transit Partnership to seek $14.4 million in New Starts federal grants that Congress had set aside in the current transportation reauthorization bill for the preliminary engineering phase of the project. But the transit authority can’t tap into the funds without approval by the Federal Transportation Administration, Kalczuk explained. Candidates seeking FTA approval for New Starts funding have to show “the potential of local support for more than 20 years.”
“Five years is not good enough for the FTA to prove we have a long-term financial plan. At this stage all we needed to do was to demonstrate that we had the ability to put a 20-plus year operating millage on the ballot,” Kalczuk said.
“The New Starts money is very competitive. So if we can’t prove that we have a mechanism to get a long-term financial commitment from the community to support a streetcar or bus rapid transit line, that’s really all the reason they need to kick us out of the running. Unless the FTA advances our project to the next level, we can’t use that money.”
Kooiman pointed out that ridership on the Rapid has nearly doubled in the past decade and that The Rapid posted a record 6.5 million passenger trips in 2004.
The Public Transportation Tomorrow Task Force is presently completing Phase I of the study. Thus far the study has included evaluation of various transit modes — such as light rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit — and the identification of primary transit corridors that best support a high-capacity transit system.
At this point, the two modes under consideration are bus rapid transit and bus streetcar, and the two corridors under consideration are the South corridor, which runs from downtown
“We’re going to continue to do whatever we can to see if we can move this project forward at all,” Kalczuk said. “But realistically, until there is some kind of change to the five-year cap on a millage for us, it’s highly unlikely that the project will continue.”
Phase I of the study was underwritten by the FTA, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Wege Foundation and the Urban Cooperation Board.