Metro Council content with stimulus money

March 2, 2009
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Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula was pleasantly satisfied — but not exactly overjoyed — when he learned the state was giving the region $13.1 million in federal stimulus money for transportation projects.

That figure was the minimum the council expected it would receive.

“We can always use more money. We can always use more money for roads, bridges, transit and airport improvements — the entire range of transportation improvements,” he said

“But we’re confident that given the constraints that are set in federal law, given the competition for this money that exists with other areas in the state and in the country, we feel we have gotten as fair a shake as we could have gotten at this point.”

Stypula was especially proud, though, to hear Gov. Jennifer Granholm proclaim that the Metro Council was much further along in getting its transportation projects shovel ready than any other similar organization in the state.

The day before she made that remark, the governor visited the metro Detroit and Flint areas. In her visit here, she found that both were trailing the Metro Council in the amount of progress each had made in regard to getting projects to the shovel-ready stage.

At the last Metro Council meeting, board members unanimously agreed to give one of its committees the power to OK the region’s projects that would be included for the stimulus funding. Doing that cut out an additional step that would have required the full board to review and vote on the selections, which would have added precious weeks to the process to get the projects on the list.

“We’re done with that,” said Stypula.

But Stypula didn’t think the state was giving the region its fair share of the stimulus money that has been targeted for water and sewer improvements. He said Granholm tied those dollars to the state’s revolving loan fund, which would finance up to 16 projects statewide. The state has $66 million to distribute over two years for those upgrades.

Stypula said local communities have traditionally been reluctant to take part in the fund’s application process because officials here see it as complicated and, at times, very expensive. He said the city of Grand Rapids may apply to the fund for federal dollars, but he didn’t know of any other local municipality that would be doing the same.

“As far as we can see right now, there will only be 16 projects that will be funded with the stimulus dollars for water and sewer improvements,” said Stypula.

Federal law makes the Metro Council the area’s transportation manager, which means that all projects receiving federal money have to be approved by the council before those dollars can be accepted. The approval process includes road and bridge work the Michigan Department of Transportation wants to do.

“They can’t just fund their own projects. They can’t say, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re not going to tell anybody else.’ It does give us a leg up compared to some of the smaller planning organizations in the state. So we are working closely with MDOT regarding that process,” said Stypula.

“We’ve had some disagreements as the transportation stimulus portion unfolded, but I think we can work out those disagreements and different interpretations of law and get these projects funded.”

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