Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let's Save Michigan Open Letter to Secretary LaHood

The Let's Save Michigan campaign has posted an open letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, criticizing him for shorting Michigan on transportation funds. While it is true that Michigan often doesn't get its fair share of transportation funds, it's not because the federal government doesn't like Michigan. It's because we don't have the ability to come up with a federal match for transportation funds. We risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal transportation funding because we can't come up with the 20% match this year. In fact, because Michigan doesn't have an established fixed guideway transit system, our tax dollars go to subsidize transit systems in New York, Washington D.C., and elsewhere.

The bigger issue at hand here though is the entitlement mentality of Michigan - that we somehow deserve something from the feds. This mentality has been expressed in statements by Governor Granholm and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing over the past few months. Instead of complaining about our fair share (which implies a dependence on the federal government for economic prosperity), we need to come together as a region and a state to help ourselves. This means finding a way to raise funds for critical infrastructure, living more densely, reducing the amount of infrastructure per population served, and coming up with an overall master plan to reduce sprawl. It also means diversifying our economy to reflect a permanently contracted automotive industry. We must focus on being leaders in all forms of transportation innovation, not just automobiles, and in turn present a new model for living, commuting, connecting, and accessing the market - and then sell that model to the world.

Fortunately, there are other people thinking like this in Michigan. SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation) is an initiative of the U of M Transportation Research Institute. Each year, SMART puts together a conference dedicated to alternative transportation models. Participants have the opportunity to learn about how cities around the world are dealing with traffic congestion through technology and alternatives to the automobile. If cities in India, Columbia, and South Africa are adopting the latest and greatest technologies ans strategies, certainly Michigan, with its wealth of engineers and creative minds, can come up with solutions to address our transportation challenges (including lack of transit and lack of transportation improvement funds).

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