News

This news space is an excellent place to post relevant news stories in order to keep them organized. If you use this wiki as a shared resource, this news page can be a place for everyone to share news stories they collect from their own searches on the web. I found it was a great place to highlight stories I found especially relevant in my RSS feeds and make sure I was able to keep them forever, in case the site they were hosted on ever disappears. A lot of times news sites archive their stories and make it impossible or expensive to obtain access to old articles.


Last-minute push underway for transportation development proposal

by thauckthauck (08 Dec 2008 11:05; last edited on 08 Dec 2008 11:05)

It looks like state leaders might pass a bill that would allow for the funding of some of the current transit plans in the Southeast Michigan region. Note the statistics cited by the Governor that highlight the benefits of improved public transportation in Michigan. The original can be found here.

Last-minute push underway for transportation development proposal
Posted by Charles Roltsch, Capital News Service December 05, 2008 11:48AM

LANSING- A bill being pushed in the final days of the 2008 Legislature could help municipalities pay for transportation development.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marie Donigan, D- Royal Oak, would allow communities to establish a board to raise and oversee funding in the same way cities, such as Denver and Portland, Ore., have done.

It's passed the house and awaits Senate action.

"Cities that have built rapid transit systems have gained thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in private sector development," said Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, an Ann Arbor-based advocacy group for cities and villages.

A Transportation Funding Task Force, formed in 2007 by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said, "A good level of investment in transportation could sustain 126,000 Michigan jobs, attract new businesses and open new global markets for Michigan goods and services. It will yield nearly $15 billion in other economic benefits for all sectors of the Michigan economy."

Donigan said her bill would let local governments expand mass transit when the state can't. "They don't have to rely on state funding and it allows for more monetary resources to contribute."

Donigan said cities and villages could raise money through increased taxes or private investment, but projects would likely pay for themselves through increased property tax revenue.

Michigan is losing up to $1 billion a year in matching federal funds by not spending state money on transportation, according to the task force.

Her bill had met opposition from county leaders, said David Worthams, a legislative associate at the league. "They objected over their lack of say in the transit authorities and that they couldn't opt out," he said. "It's a tool that's inappropriate for the county level. Counties benefit but it's better suited on a local level."

Tom Hickson, director of legislative affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties, said it supports the bill in its current form. "The disagreement came when Donigan tried to amend the bill to strip away the tax increase from the counties," Hickson said.

Worthams said many current and future projects around the state could the proposed legislation for necessary funding. A bus line expansion in Grand Rapids, a light rail line from Detroit to Ann Arbor and the Woodward light rail project in Detroit could all use the new system to raise funds, Worthams said.

Donigan, who was reelected in November said she will reintroduce the bill in 2009 if it doesn't pass before the session ends.

Donigan said, "This bill ultimately allows local, state and private forces to work together to create a dynamic transportation system."


New bus route will take riders from downtown Ann Arbor to Amtrak station

by thauckthauck (08 Dec 2008 10:56; last edited on 08 Dec 2008 10:57)

Ann Arbor's public transportation system finally links to the Amtrak station that lies just north of the City's downtown district. According to this article, it looks as though this new bus route might also be being added in anticipation of a commuter rail link between Ann Arbor and her northern suburbs. The original can be found here.

New bus route will take riders from downtown Ann Arbor to Amtrak station
by John Mulcahy | The Ann Arbor News

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority will launch a new bus route between the Blake Transit Center on Fourth Avenue and the Amtrak station on Depot Street beginning Monday.

The new, No. 17 bus will operate every half hour for most of the day on weekdays and every hour on weekends, and also will serve bus stops on Division Street and Fifth Avenue.

Besides serving people taking Amtrak trains to Chicago, Detroit and points in between, the new route will help AATA gain experience for serving anticipated commuters routes between Ann Arbor and Detroit and between Ann Arbor and Howell, said Dawn Gabay, interim director of AATA.

Among other things, AATA will be looking for the best way to safely accommodate people carrying bags, Gabay said.

"Obviously, if we are going to service the Amtrak station, we're going to have to allow people to get on with baggage," she said.

Options include having people keep their bags between seats and out of the isle, or putting them at some designated area on the bus, she said.

All of AATA's buses are low-floor, making it easier for people to carry bags onto the bus, she said.

The buses will not be timed to meet specific trains, but the frequency of the bus should make it practical for people to take the bus to the train station without having to wait unreasonably long for their train, Gabay said.

A route that stopped at the train station several years ago did not attract many riders, but AATA officials think things are different now, Gabay said.

"The environment has changed, the economic situation has changed," she said.


Transit takes center stage in Detroit mayoral debate

by thauckthauck (08 Dec 2008 10:50; last edited on 08 Dec 2008 10:51)

As Detroit searches for a new mayor, it seems that one issue that all three candidates agree upon is that regional transit in Southeast Michigan must be consolidated. This opinion piece details why it only make sense that political leaders in the area try to find some common ground and develop transit that everyone could benefit from. You can read the original here.

It’s a good sign for Detroit and the entire region that three of the leading candidates for mayor of Detroit agreed Tuesday night that it makes sense for the city-owned Detroit Department of Transportation and the suburban SMART system to merge. Dave Bing, Freman Hendrix and Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. said during a debate on WADL-TV that it doesn’t make sense in the current economy to administer two systems and maintain separate garage facilities for SMART and DDOT.

They suggested that the long-discussed merger could become part of an emerging regional mass transit plan that includes a light rail system on Woodward Ave. between downtown Detroit and the New Center area. That stretch will be financed mostly with private money.

But good luck. Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer tried for years to merge the city bus system with SMART, but in the end failed to merge even one route. There’s mucho mistrust on both sides of 8 Mile, mainly over who pays for — and controls — what. A seamless regional transportation system would benefit everyone in metro Detroit, but getting people to think regionally is tough.

As one Macomb County commissioner put it: “One I hear regional cooperation, I grab my wallet.’’ Other metro areas, including Grand Rapids, cooperate on mass transit and move ahead. In Denver, 8 counties approved a sales tax increase to pay for a regional rapid transit bus and rail system, and the entire region is booming.

Here’s the deal: Now, city residents like me pay — on a per-capita basis — about five times as much as people in the suburbs for bus service. Detroit spends about $90 million a year on the Detroit Department of Transportation — money that comes straight out of the general fund. The suburbs, which altogether pay about $50 million a year through a property tax millage, don’t want to pay more so Detroit can pay less. We still don’t think as a region, and look where it’s got us.

In the long run, both city and suburban leaders will have to think differently, or southeast Michigan will fall further behind other regions. Detroit leaders must understand that, with a shrinking city in financial crisis, they must stop big-timing it and treat the suburbs as full partners. Suburban leaders must stop screaming every time they think one of their dollars might help someone in Detroit. Transportation is a good first step, and three of the candidates for Detroit mayor appear ready to take it.


Patterson faces different landscape in Oakland County

by thauckthauck (18 Nov 2008 03:08; last edited on 18 Nov 2008 03:08)

This article is an update to one I posted before about the race for Oakland County Executive. Although not directly transit related, incumbent elect L. Brooks Patterson has been a strong voice opposed to using public money to develop light rail in Southeast Michigan. Does the changing political landscape of Oakland County require that Mr. Patterson reevaluate his opinions on public spending? This article seems to suggest that it does. The original can be accessed here.

Catherine Jun / The Detroit News

PONTIAC — Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson could face one of his most challenging, toughest terms yet as the economy slides into recession and Democrats make healthy inroads in county politics.

The 69-year-old Republican's election victory last week against Southfield mayor Brenda Lawrence handed him another four years as the county's top chief — and a busy agenda from the start.

Patterson is now at the helm of a county much different than what he inherited nearly two decades ago. Though still the richest in the state, Oakland County, too, tallies record foreclosures and bloated unemployment rolls that could soon grow even bigger.

The once GOP-dominated terrain has changed, too. Migration from Detroit now splits the county evenly between Democrats and Republicans, according to one poll, and that brings different ideas on how government should run. Despite all of this, Patterson says he will lead as he always has: with a focus on job and business growth and a tight reign on government spending.

"Patterson runs Oakland County like a corporation," said Diane Harnisch, executive director of the county's Republican Party. "I don't think when people vote for Brooks it's a partisan vote."

Patterson's administration has in recent months assembled officials from the state, county and Auburn Hills — home to Chrysler LLC headquarters — and has begun weaving safety nets for what is expected to be tides of laid off workers: job fairs, skills retraining programs, welfare resources.

"We've started to strategize and play the 'what if' game," said Peter Auger, city manager of Auburn Hills, home to the headquarters of Chrysler Corp. "Even though it's a challenging time, it's not time to pull back the horns but charge forward."

The last year tested Patterson and his staff as they reworked the budget to plug a hole of millions of dollars due to property values falling in the county for the first time in four decades. Property taxes account for more than half the county's budget revenue. They responded by eliminating 150 positions and closing a sheriff's boot camp.

With property values in the county predicted to continue their downward slide, the county will need to further hone the skill to do more with less. "We have to downsize government," said Laurie VanPelt, the county's director of management and budget. "Right now, we have to identify what areas need to be cut."

Patterson shouldn't get much resistance on getting approval for bitter antidotes, since the 25-member county commission, the county's legislative body, still maintains the same slender Republican majority — 13 to 12 — as before Election Day.

But some observers say Patterson can't ignore the growing Democratic tide, which gave as much as 42 percent of votes cast in the executive race to Lawrence versus his 58 percent.

"Neither the Democrats or the Republicans have all the right answers," said John S. Klemanski, political science professor at Oakland University. "So can you find some ideas from the other side that are worth pursuing? My thought is 'yes.'"

Southfield voter Ernest Needle, 59, says he hopes Patterson will adopt some parts of Lawrence's platform, such as mass transit and cooperation on refurbishing Cobo Center.

"He should take heed," said Needle. "Now that everybody is tuned into saving energy and energy efficiency, maybe there's a need for people to take mass transit into downtown Detroit."

Patterson has always maintained he's not against either projects, but doesn't want taxpayers to shoulder the cost burdens.

"Show me how you're going to pay for it," Patterson said.

He further dismissed the electoral margin, attributing the mass of votes for his opponent to the Obama factor. "I wasn't running against Brenda Lawrence. I was running against Barack Obama," Patterson said.

"My priorities have pretty much been on target and I think the voters agree," he added. "I'm going to keep pouring it on as I have the last 16 years."


Rail line stops sketched in

by thauckthauck (18 Nov 2008 02:59; last edited on 18 Nov 2008 02:59)

It finally seems like reliable transit connecting Ann Arbor, Metro Airport, and the City of Detroit is becoming a reality. This article details the proposed stops for the line that officials hope will become part of a larger regional system. The original can be found here.

Tanveer Ali - The Detroit News

WESTLAND — Officials have pinpointed sites for rail stations serving Detroit Metro Airport and Dearborn along a proposed commuter rail line that planners hope will be running by October 2010.

Six miles from the new North Terminal, a planned station on county-owned land at Michigan and Henry Ruff would connect commuters to their flights via an airport shuttle. The station would be one of five along the line that would share track with Amtrak and freight trains and include stops in Ypsilanti and at the New Center in Detroit.

Carmine Palombo, director of transportation for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said the train line is a key component of the ambitious plans for a mass transit system that could complement and add to the region's economy.

"The site gives us a lot of accessibility and with getting to and from the airport, it gives us good travel time," Palombo said.

Palombo said the project is one of several in planning stages, including a light-rail line along Woodward in Detroit and a commuter line from Livingston County to Ann Arbor. Palombo said he was optimistic the Ann Arbor-Detroit line will get off the ground, as it already has some political support, though cost estimates and funding proposals have yet to be decided.

After a multiyear study, Dearborn officials are considering an area south of Michigan Avenue near Elm as the site of the Dearborn Intermodal Rail Passenger Station. Officials say the transportation center, which has yet to receive funding, could make Dearborn a regional hub connecting train commuters to various bus lines, taxis and shuttles.

The city's economic and community development director Barry Murray said the site was chosen for its proximity to the city's business district and major attractions.

"We picked it because of proximity to the Henry Ford, downtown and the (University of Michigan) campus," Murray said.

An open house to show the plans for the station is scheduled in Dearborn from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center at 15801 Michigan.

In September, a regional transit commission unveiled its concept for a transportation system crisscrossing the Metro Detroit area with high-tech buses and light-rail lines over the next few decades. A progress report on regional transit issues is on the agenda for the SEMCOG Fall General Assembly, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Sterling Inn in Sterling Heights.


State pushes transportation effort again

by thauckthauck (16 Nov 2008 02:29; last edited on 16 Nov 2008 02:30)

An opinion article from the Daily Tribune, a southeastern Oakland County publication, talking about transportation initiatives in the state government. The original can be accessed here.

When it comes to public transit in the Detroit area, State Rep. Marie Donigan gets it.

Donigan understands the long-term need for transit to make the region less congested and more usable for employees and employers, for those who can't afford a car or prefer to do without one.

She understands the way a fixed system can transform property within a transit corridor as the new transportation options it provides quickly make it more valuable.

For her efforts to make effective public transit a reality, the Royal Oak Democrat has been honored by the Michigan Municipal League as its 2008 Michigan Legislator of the Year. Donigan is a member of the House Transportation Committee and chairs the House Public Transit Subcommittee.

Donigan sees her subcommittee's major accomplishment the bringing together of those who have an interest in better transit, and she's pointed out how improved transit has changed cities such as Denver, Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore.

The League's executive director called Donigan "a champion to solve our gridlocked infrastructure" throughout the state as well as in its southeast corner.

The award comes at a time when interest in public transit is beginning to take off. After years of ignoring the potential, leaders in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties are working with Detroit toward a regional mass transit plan that proposes buses powered by hybrid engines on existing routes, better shelters which provide information on the next arriving bus and faster service. It would be followed by a light-rail system, starting on Woodward between downtown Detroit and the New Center and light rail on Gratiot and M-59 in Macomb County.

The short Woodward line has already lined up much of its necessary funding — from private sources.

If the system can attract riders, it could be extended to Ann Arbor, Pontiac and Port Huron.

If some that sounds familiar, it should: Such a passenger rail was in place a century ago. More recently, Detroit and surrounding counties couldn't get together on a common plan for rapid transit from Detroit out Woodward to Royal Oak and beyond. As a result, $600 million in federal funding in the 1970s went somewhere else.

Good transit in southeastern Michigan has been a dream, no more, for many years while similar visions became reality in cities elsewhere that previously had about as little interest in it as southeastern Michigan.

Donigan understands the past. But she has a clearer view of the future than many, and she deserves the recognition she's getting for that vision.


Lawrence, Patterson Clash in Oakland County Exec. Race

by thauckthauck (23 Oct 2008 21:05; last edited on 23 Oct 2008 21:16)

This article ran in the Northville Record and it details a debate between the two candidates for Oakland County Executive: incumbent L. Brooks Patterson and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawerance. The two square off on a number of issues, including Brooks' reluctance to get behind a regional transit plan. Interesting to note that transit is becoming such a hotly contested part of Metro Detroit politics.

When L. Brooks Patterson went to a Detroit Tigers baseball game a couple of years back, he was approached by a panhandler.

"Mr. Patterson, can you spare a dollar?"

That kind of name recognition is just one advantage Patterson enjoys going into the Nov. 4 election seeking his fifth consecutive term as Oakland County \ executive.

But name recognition and advantages of the incumbency haven't deterred challenger Brenda Lawrence, the twice-elected mayor of Southfield, who insists leadership in the state's wealthiest county has grown "tired" and ineffective.

"Oakland County is ready for change," Lawrence says repeatedly as she tries to convince voters she has the ideas, energy and leadership needed for Oakland to be successful in an increasingly diverse and changing world.

Lawrence repeated that charge during a recent debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters-Oakland Area. It will be broadcast on cable channels throughout the county, according to league President Eva Packard.

Lawrence and Patterson will square off a second time at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Walsh College. "It's not a debate," said Michele Hodges of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the event. "It's more of a joint discussion."

Patterson is running on his record, which he characterized as 16 years of growth and achievement. During that time, he said, more than 25,000 new jobs have been created with the help of initiatives such as Automation Alley and the Oakland County Emerging Sectors Program. Over the last four years, the Emerging Sectors Program has encouraged 96 companies to build or expand in Oakland County, generating $1.1 billion in investment and $25 million in tax revenue, according to economic development officials.

The county's AAA bond rating, the executive said, speaks to the county being financially sound and efficiently managed with an annual budget of $742 million.

But Lawrence says the county - under Patterson's leadership - has lagged on important regional issues including mass transit and upgrading Cobo Hall in Detroit. Oakland has also failed to adequately address problems like home foreclosures, she said.

When Patterson counters that Cobo officials had not negotiated in good faith, Lawrence insists good leadership entails developing trust and cooperation to get results, "not walking away from the table."

Lawrence also accuses the county executive of abandoning economically stressed communities like Pontiac. "I would be embarrassed to have a county seat as distressed as Pontiac," she said during the debate.

Southfield should know about economic distress, Patterson countered. It has the highest property tax rate in the county, with one out of every 24 homes in foreclosure.

That was misleading - if not inaccurate information - Lawrence countered. "Shame on you, Mr. Patterson," she said.

In Southfield, home to several Fortune 200 companies, progress comes through joint cooperation, Lawrence said, like the partnership between Lawrence Technological University, Japanese businesses and the city to develop and use carbon-reinforced concrete for building more durable and long-lasting bridges and structures.

With these kinds of public-private partnerships, Southfield has emerged as a research center for an important technology, Lawrence insists. She notes the city's AA-plus bond status - one of the highest municipal ratings in the state - is an indicator of the city's financial stability and fiscal integrity.

In some ways, the race between Lawrence and Patterson mirrors the presidential contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. Both feature experienced Republicans running against vigorous, but less experienced, Democrats.

Patterson said Republicans were hurt when McCain announced he was pulling his campaign staff out of Michigan. Some "very good Republican candidates" will suffer because of that decision, he said.

Dennis Cowen, the GOP county chair, said Patterson himself may be the "firewall" that protects some Republican candidates who might have been left vulnerable when McCain bailed out of Michigan.

"Brooks did well in the debate," the former mayor of Royal Oak said, "and the polls show him leading Mayor Lawrence by a two to one margin. He and (Sheriff Michael) Bouchard will help the top of the ticket at the county level."

Lawrence said her chances were enhanced by the vigorous primary campaign between Obama and Hillary Clinton - and expectations of a large voter turnout.

"During the primary," she said, "the leading Democrats were a minority and a woman. And I'm both."

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