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The high cost of failing to fund public transit

OpEd by Cindy Reese - July 31, 2014

The need for Michigan to support public transportation reminds me of an old TV ad that ended with the line, “pay me now or pay me later.” The speaker was an auto repair guy trying to convince us to buy a $4 oil filter to prevent hundreds of dollars of damage to the car engine. Michigan has long been in the same boat with regard to public transportation.

As a state, we don’t seem to understand the value of public transportation to our economy and quality of life, which go hand in hand. We have not realized that public transportation is part of the “rising tide that lifts all boats,” that we all do better when everyone, including bus riders, can get to work, school and medical appointments. We have failed to understand that efficient, reliable public transportation is a factor in people’s calculations of choosing where to live, even when they don’t regularly use it.

In the meantime, other places that have consistently invested in better public transportation infrastructure continue to be more attractive places to live.

Playing catch-up is better than not being in the game. But it’s time we pull up our socks and get to work.

At the very least, we can keep ourselves from falling further behind by supporting the upcoming transportation millage and by demanding that lawmakers do their jobs by funding safe, reliable mass transportation.

In terms of the SMART millage, it will cost $50 per year if you own a $100,000 house. That’s up from the current $30 per year, but is still less than two tanks of gas. That part of transportation funding is in our hands. But we need to make sure our voices are heard by Lansing lawmakers.

The badly-needed funding for state roads that legislators failed to pass before summer vacation also included funding for public transportation. The need for better roads and better mass transit are tied in more ways than you might think. The lion’s share of funding has been going to roads.

The circular reasoning to support that formula goes something like this: We don’t have much in the way of public transportation, few buses and less rail, so we need to spend more on roads to support private transport.

By that reasoning, we’ll never have mass public transportation and we’ll never catch up to places like Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Even Cleveland has a train to get you to and from the airport to downtown.

It’s time we drag our lawmakers into the 21st century before much more of this century slips by. Let Lansing know we need to support public transportation for Michigan to compete.

Cindy Reese chairs the Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) transportation task force.

This OpEd originally appeared in The Detroit News on July 31, 2014 and is available here:

State to spend $13.5 million on transit to settle Zoo Interchange suit

The State of Wisconsin said Monday it would pay more than $13 million for new Milwaukee County bus routes to help with congestion during the massive Zoo Interchange reconstruction, settling a 2-year-old lawsuit.

The lawsuit, brought by the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, alleged that the $1.7 billion expansion of the Zoo Interchange, the state's busiest, discriminated against urban minorities by not including public transit improvements.

Last year, federal Judge Lynn Adelman allowed work on the project to move forward but said the lawsuit would likely succeed.

Dennis Grzezinski, an attorney for MICAH and the Black Health Coalition, had no comment on a settlement other than to say that he was waiting for details to be completed.

According to the Department of Transportation, the state will:

■ Pay up to $11.5 million over four years for the bus routes. The routes haven't yet been developed, but they will ease congestion and focus on transporting workers between Milwaukee and suburban communities.

■ Spend $2 million over four years to transit providers to help enhance services. This could include real-time route information or outreach to boost ridership.

"The routes will support the department's Traffic Management Plan for the project, facilitating our commitment to minimize the impacts of construction on travelers, residents and businesses," DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb said in a release.

The reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange is scheduled to begin in 2015 and finish in 2018. Work to boost capacity on nearby arterials and interchanges is in progress.

The settlement was negotiated in court-sponsored mediation.

The Black Health Coalition had no comment on the settlement. Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Up for discussion Tuesday at the Milwaukee County Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee meeting is a new reverse commute express route, Route 279, which would be paid for with the settlement money. Route 279 would run along Fond du Lac Ave. from central Milwaukee to Park Place business park and the Menomonee Falls industrial park in Waukesha County.

The proposed start date for the route is Aug. 24, according to county documents. The cost of the route for 2014 will be $245,000 and $668,000 in 2015. The service will operate seven days a week during typical start-and-end times over three shifts.

Brian Dranzik, director of Milwaukee County's DOT, said in a letter to the County Board that the route's approval would benefit residents and reduce travel times between northwest Milwaukee County and Waukesha County.


This story originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 19, 2014 and is available here:

Posted by

Todd Solomon

The work we do at DOT cannot be done without our partners. Whether we're investing in safety, seeking innovation, or solving regional transportation challenges, success often depends on exceptional groups and individuals doing the heavy lifting and setting the bar high for the rest of us. That's why the Obama Administration has been recognizing Champions of Change in different fields, including transportation.

Like previous winner Beverly Scott--the MARTA CEO who actually painted red X's on Atlanta buses to show what transit service cuts would mean to commuters--one person with one idea can make a world of difference.

And just as that holds true with transit in Atlanta, it also holds true in the difficult challenge of connecting people to ladders of opportunity like good jobs, education, and important services.

But our country's continued economic growth depends on meeting that access challenge, so this May, DOT and the White House Office of Public Engagement will host a Champions of Change event focused on Transportation and Ladders of Opportunity.

White House Champions of Change logo

Selected Champions will be individuals who have provided exemplary leadership to ensure that transportation facilities, services, and jobs help individuals and their communities connect to 21st century opportunities. A champion’s work may include transportation projects, services, or advocacy across any mode of transportation.

Examples include:

·         Providing leadership in planning, design, and development of innovative transportation solutions that result in connected communities

·         Advancing the use of equity based performance measures and planning initiatives at the state and/or community level.

·         Developing and/or implementing transportation safety strategies or  innovative transportation safety programs for communities for minority, older adults, limited English proficiency or other at-risk communities

·         Establishing transportation workforce training initiatives for disadvantaged workers, including at-risk youth, minority, low income, women, veterans, people with disabilities and others

·         Implementing innovative public engagement strategies that ensure full participation by all citizens across the community.

·         Providing strategies for streamlining project delivery that provide efficiency and economic benefits for the community.

·         Demonstrating best practices in environmental justice related to transportation projects

·         Advancing innovative strategies for utilizing disadvantaged businesses in transportation projects.

·         Demonstrating leadership in efforts to enhance transportation services for people who may not have access to personal vehicles, including people with disabilities, older adults, and/or people with lower incomes.

·         Applying technologies that advance access to transportation for underrepresented communities.

If you know of someone making a difference in one or more of these ways, help us share their achievement by nominating them as a White House Champion of Change today!

Nominations are due by Thursday March 27, 2014, and we've made it easy by offering you two ways to submit your nomination:

·         Use our handy online Nomination Form.  OR

·         Download our Nomination Form, complete it, and email it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank"> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or

However you share your nomination, please let us hear from you. It's a great way to recognize someone making a difference in their community. And it's a great way of inspiring other problem-solvers and innovators to continue pursuing their work.

In his blog post yesterday, Secretary Foxx talked about the important quality of “good, old-fashioned American inventiveness.” Today, we’re asking you to help us shine a light on that quality, wherever you find it.


This article was originally posted on the United States Department of Transportation site and is available here:

By Lauren Duncan

After the Illinois Department of Transportation released a list of more than 150 properties along Springfield’s 10th Street rail line last summer, property owners face the risk of being scammed.

IDOT has tentative plans to begin construction on Springfield’s Third and 10th Street rail line consolidation when funding becomes available. The department released a list of the 108 residential and 50 commercial business properties along the 10th Street rail line the state needs to eventually acquire to complete the proposed $315 million project. Residents and businesses will have to relocate.

Leroy Jordan, co-chair of the rail task force of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, is concerned property owners may not get the best value for the property if they aren’t careful.

“There are people coming in and they are setting up seminars … and then they’re talking about how much more money they can get for [the property owners],” Jordan said. “Which I think is like a charade.”

The state hasn’t confirmed when further details about any land acquisition will be announced. This is primarily because there isn’t money to fund the project, and thus IDOT hasn’t released plans of when work will officially begin along the 10th Street corridor.

For property owners or residents on that list of properties, knowing when they will have to sell their property to the state or move is significant. Should they take an offer now, or wait? That’s why the FCCG is trying to protect property owners and residents.

Jordan gave of an example of a recent sales pitch to a 10th Street line resident: “The realtor approached her about her property. He wanted to buy it, and said that she could stay in the property, free of charge, until the railroad bought it from him,” he said.

The FCCG has been keeping track of Springfield’s rail projects for years. Jordan said he feels important information about the project hasn’t been communicated well to those directly affected.

“Here we are as a community organization trying to be of service to our community and … there seems to be a purposeful lack of communication,” he said.

Federal law states that private property can only be taken for public use with “just compensation.” However, that doesn’t prohibit individuals in the private market from making offers. As a result, Jordan wants to make sure residents – particularly the elderly – are not taken advantage of.

Jordan makes these suggestions to owners of properties on the acquisition list:

  • Obtain a copy of IDOT’s land acquisition rules.
  • Consult with a real estate agent.
  • Find out what your property is worth from the tax assessor’s office.
  • Ask a real estate agent for an estimated replacement cost.
  • Explore the difference between the tax assessment value and the replacement cost.

“Somewhere in the middle of that, you want to ask for some money, but the closer you can get to the replacement value, the better you are,” he said.

In addition to real estate agents, property owners have also heard from individuals offering other services. Jim Dixon, who is also a member of the FCCG rail task force, attended a meeting last year where Jordan Walker, an attorney from Indianapolis, encouraged residents to hire his firm, Sever Storey, to handle their property acquisitions. Dixon said Walker claimed the firm has been successful in getting property owners more money than offers they receive from agents.

Dixon advised that residents keep in mind they have time before any acquisitions will happen.“People should not be in a rush,” Dixon said.

“People should maintain their property and wait and see what happens,” he said.

While owners will be affected by the purchase of property, Jordan emphasized that he also wants renters to know that they also will have opportunities for compensation as a result of being displaced. He said the FCCG plans to hold a meeting in February regarding the issues.

This story originally appeard in the Illinois Times on January 23, 2014 and is available here:

Posted Jan. 17, 2014 byLeroy Jordan

As a child, I was always excited about preparing a wish list for the New Year rather than making a New Year’s resolution about something that sounded good but I knew would be impossible to keep.
The difference between my wish list then and my wish list now is it has changed from what I want for myself to what I want for the community where I have resided for the last 49 years. I’ve come to realize that history continues to prove that when we join together for the common good we are more likely to meet the needs of our community and the people we serve.
My 2014 wish list focuses on the items found in the Faith Coalition for the Common Good’s Rail Community Benefit Agreement.
Here are my wishes for 2014.
* I wish for a special blessing for the health and welfare of Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the public decision makers, stakeholders and especially all rail planning and monitoring committee members.
* I wish more community organizations, faith communities and individuals would join Faith Coalition because our grassroots numbers are the key to the welfare of the many people we serve. The coalition’s power is not in wealth but in the numbers of citizens represented by its membership. You can help make our voices stronger in this justice work by joining with us.
* I wish the Community Benefit Agreement were accepted by the decision makers and stakeholders not just through their words but also by their actions. The result of Faith Coalition for the Common Good’s six-month report indicates a lot of promises have been made but very few immediate actions have resulted. Because a decision was made not to include the coalition in the stakeholder group, the voices of the community have been ignored. I believe the stakeholders (powerbrokers) wish we would just go away and shut up.
I believe it would be helpful if The State Journal-Register would publish human interest stories on the environmental and economic impact the railroad project is having on families most affected by the 10th Street relocation decision. I plan to write articles addressing each item in the Community Benefit Agreement. Today, I will address relocation.
Railroad Relocation
Did you know since the time The State Journal-Register published the relocation properties address listing in the paper, people have been under pressure to sell their properties? Yes, not only that but they are being invited by land speculators and attorneys from Decatur, Chicago and other places to attend seminars, here in Springfield, to convince people to sell their properties. I wonder what happened to the active involvement of The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the association of Springfield Realtors. I wonder: Aren’t they concerned about the families and senior citizens of our community? Is it just money-making business deals with which they are concerned?

This story originally appeared in The State Journal-Register on January 17, 2014 and is available here: