TF2 Mulls Transpo Challenges

August 1, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The state’s Task Force on Transportation Funding met for the fifth time in July and continued reviewing the adequacy of surface transportation, aeronautics service and overall transportation funding.

The Transportation Funding Task Force, also referred to as TF2, was formed to advise the Michigan Legislature and state government on the status of transportation investments and revenues and recommendations regarding how those revenues could be used, explained Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid and a member of the nine-member task force appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to carry out the review.

The task force has been meeting each month at a different location since early March and will continue to meet through the end of October. Its preliminary findings are due Oct. 31.

The task force’s work is being aided by a 19-member citizens’ advisory committee comprised of representatives of transportation, government, business and shipping. The CAC is charged with receiving and commenting on all reports, studies and recommendations prepared by various designated technical subcommittees. CAC and its subcommittees have been meeting for as long as, if not longer than, the task force, said Kent County Aeronautics Director James Koslosky, who serves on the citizens’ advisory committee as well as the aviation subcommittee.

Koslosky said CAC and its subcommittees have been doing research and having conversations about various modes of transportation in Michigan, looking at current infrastructure, current service efficiencies and deficiencies, as well as short-term and long-term multimodal transportation needs and financial costs. The advisory committee submitted its report at the task force’s last meeting on July 21 in Traverse City.

“I think we have truly uncovered the statewide system deficiencies that exist, and they’re dire,” Koslosky said. “I don’t care which mode you’re talking about — roads, rail or bus —we have been wholly under-funding our transportation system for years. Because of that under-funding, we have reached a breaking point, quite frankly.”

Koslosky said the realization is that transportation is the backbone of the state, and if the state wants to maintain a viable economy, it has to have a progressive transportation system that supports the movement of freight and people.   

Now that the deficiencies and the revenue shortfalls have been identified across all modes, Koslosky said the task force’s next discussion will be about what level of service among the modes should be recommended, what it would cost and how the revenue gap might be closed. 

The task force is on schedule, should meet its October deadline, Varga said. The advisory committee has handed over the information the task force needs in order to deliberate on potential sources of funding for transportation issues, he said.

“It’s possible that the task force will ask the advisory committee to do additional work. It depends on us going through the documents. When we meet next on Aug. 11 in Frankenmuth, we may have a recommendation for them to do additional work,” Varga said.

The task force’s final report will be completed in April 2009 and presented to the governor and the legislature. Varga said he’s not sure what will happen after that point.

“My gut feeling is that whatever is recommended by the task force will still have to be discussed with the public after we issue the final report, and I’m not sure whose job that would be.”

Koslosky attributes the condition of the state’s transportation system to the Michigan Legislature. “In my view, we don’t have the leadership in Lansing and the political will to do what needs to be done to keep this state competitive.”

He said the real problem is that beginning in 2010, all modes of transportation in Michigan will begin to lose federal funds because the state can’t provide the necessary matching funds.

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