State Match For Rapid Essential

March 31, 2008
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The Federal Transit Administration is offering more than $32 million to The Rapid transit system, every dollar of it earned in the testing and study process Rapid administrators passed with flying colors during years of reporting and testifying before the federal bureaucracy. The federal funds would pay 80 percent of an economically significant project to develop a nine-mile corridor for bus rapid transit through Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming. The FTA only requires a 20 percent match from the state of Michigan to release the money.

The state funding formula, however, currently pits small and larger systems against one another, penalizing one project for another, but more importantly legislators have been using state Comprehensive Transportation Funds for other projects — including road improvements — in the delicate balancing of the state budget. In fact, Michigan has not been able to appropriate funds to match federal dollars, thereby losing millions of dollars in federal funds.

Flashback to the newsreel of Gov. Jennifer Granholm during her first term, sitting with Michigan members of Congress, making a pitch for the feds to return more federal transit dollars to the state, appropriately noting Michigan was among those states with the least return of federal dollars.

Flashback to 1990s Kentwood and then-Mayor Gerald DeRuiter tenaciously supporting the transit millage for Kentwood to get residents to and from work.

Flash forward to the state’s “commitment” to new energy sources and a “green” environment. Rapid ridership is at an all-time high and continues to grow. The system has been lauded with national awards and recognition among all U.S. transit systems, has among the lowest complaint levels and highest on-time records in the country. Last year 8,164,795 individuals rode the transit system, with all fixed routes seeing double-digit increases in ridership. The number of daytime riders was up 14.7 percent, and evening riders increased by 10.6 percent.

State Sen. Bill Hardiman, R-Grand Rapids, a former Kentwood mayor, is chair of the CTF committee and has pledged to at least “advocate” that the state reconsider its current proposal to gut the fund of another $1.7 million reduction, following a $5 million reduction last year.

State Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, told the Grand Rapids Business Journal editorial board he is currently unconvinced of the need for the match, though his Republican fellows, including Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, consider it a small investment to reap much bigger returns. Generally mass transit options are favored by members of both parties. That formula of federal return on state money certainly made sense at one time to Granholm, and it is the structure by which the Michigan Economic Development Corp. seeds business development: tax abatements now for business growth and job creation.

The Rapid must have agreement from the state for the match quickly (by federal and state bureaucratic standards) or lose it all.

Such cannot be the legacy of the 2008 legislature.

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