transportation

Flickr user alicegop

Here's another reason to pay your parking tickets: Your driver's license could be blocked.

A Michigan law kicking in on May 16 says three unpaid parking tickets can prevent renewal of a license. The current threshold is six.

Local governments notify the secretary of state when someone has too many unpaid parking tickets, although some communities are more aggressive than others. Birmingham in suburban Detroit turns unpaid tickets over to a collection agency.

The Ambassador Bridge / Jim Wallace

DETROIT (AP) - A judge has ordered the company that controls the Ambassador Bridge to surrender control of its portion of a project on the U.S. side of the international crossing to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Thursday that an account be set up to fund the work.

A next court hearing is March 22.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. has said it's making progress on its share of the $230 million Gateway Project and pledged to complete the work.

In January, Edwards put 84-year-old billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top executive, Dan Stamper, in jail for contempt of court for failing to follow orders on the project, which includes connecting the bridge with Canada to area interstates.

They were released by the Michigan appeals court.

Flickr user poka0059

Organizers of a new campaign want to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving. The project is called "Remembering Ally: Distracted Driving Awareness Campaign." It was named in honor of Ally Zimmerman. She was sixteen when she was killed by a distracted driver.

Jim Santilli is executive director of the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan. He says one simple mistake made by a distracted driver can change the lives of many people.

On Tuesday TIA will hold a conference at Zimmerman’s former high school in Romeo. The speakers will include members of her family as well as government and safety officials. A new, graphic video that details what happens in a car crash will also be shown.

The campaign is geared toward teens and young adults, but Santilli says older adults are also guilty of distracted driving.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit's problematic public transportation system is getting a new leader.

The office of Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement Tuesday night that Ron Freeland would serve as the Detroit Department of Transportation's CEO. Freeland has worked as an executive with other transportation systems in the U.S.

Word of the appointment comes as Detroit considers ending early-morning bus service as part of an effort to cut about $11 million in costs. The city says some other bus routes could be eliminated. Public hearings on the proposal are planned.

The mayor on Wednesday also planned to show off new city buses at an event on the city's east side. The mayor's office says the new, more fuel-efficient buses are part of the city's newest fleet that began arriving Jan. 30.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he's recommending $14.7 million in federal aid to build a 9.6-mile bus rapid transit line in Grand Rapids.

LaHood said in a statement Tuesday that the line will offer fast and efficient access to the western Michigan city's central business district and relieve congestion.

LaHood says the project is part of President Barack Obama's budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The budget sent to Congress on Monday includes $2.2 billion in funding for 29 major rail and bus
rapid transit projects in 15 states.

LaHood says the budget would fund the Grand Rapids Interurban Transit partnership for a new Silver Line BRT system. It would run along Division Avenue from the Grand Rapids central business
district to 60th Street at Division Avenue.

user orinzebest / Flickr

Voters may soon decide whether Michigan should scrap the 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gas at the pump in favor of a sales tax increase of 1 percent.

The change would help generate more money for transportation funding.

A proposal to put the question to voters is gaining momentum with some legislative leaders.

That change would require a constitutional amendment and put the question to voters on the ballot.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the measure. He said if taxpayers are asked to pay more to fix the state’s roads, they should have a voice.

user amtrak_russ / Flickr

Maximum train speeds on Amtrak's Wolverine and Blue Water lines can increase to 110 m.p.h. on an 80 mile stretch of track between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

Amtrak and MDOT officials say the higher speed is the fastest allowed outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak's Acela Express train, which travels between Boston and Washington D.C., can reach speeds up to 150 m.p.h.

Approval was given after successful testing of a "positive train control safety system" installed on the tracks.

From an Amtrak and MDOT press release:

Peter Ito / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is looking for more money to support transportation costs in Michigan. That includes more than $1 billion to fix roads and bridges.

We talk to Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

 

Most people remember Upton Sinclair, the crusading twentieth century writer, as the author of the novel, The Jungle, which exposed conditions in the food packing industry in Chicago. If you haven’t read it, it’s enough to make a butcher become a vegan for a week.

Benny Mazur / Flickr

Six unpaid tickets triggers sanctions at the Secretary of State's office.

Now that might change to three. From the Associated Press:

The state Legislature has approved a bill that would make it tougher and more expensive for motorists who pile up unpaid parking tickets to get their driver's licenses renewed.

The Senate passed a bill by a 27-11 vote Tuesday that would lower the number of unpaid tickets needed to prompt sanctions from the Secretary of State's office. The bill already has passed the House so it's on the way to Gov. Rick Snyder.

Motorists now are blocked from getting or renewing their driver's licenses if they have six or more unresolved parking violations. That number would drop to three unpaid parking tickets under the bill.

The AP reports in 2018, the law would expire and go back to six unpaid tickets needed for sanctions.

Riding the Rails

Jan 30, 2012

I have been traveling by air for most of my adult life, and for a few years, flew somewhere at least once a week.

Yet while I took trains in Europe and Japan, it never occurred to me to do so from Detroit. Amtrak, people said, took forever and was a fairly nasty experience; a shabby relic of transportation’s past.

However, air travel has become less and less fun, from the increasingly cramped seats and loss of anything resembling service, and more and more intrusive security procedures.

Fixing the roads

Jan 23, 2012

To say that Governor Rick Snyder isn’t popular these days with Democrats,  liberals and even some independent voters would probably be an understatement. Many were upset by his decisions to cut education spending in order to drastically lower business taxes. Others weren’t happy that the state is now taxing pensions.

And there was widespread unhappiness when Snyder signed a bill that prevents state and local governments from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees. Polls indicate that some who voted for him fourteen months ago wouldn’t do so today.

Flickr user fellowship of the rich

A package of bills soon to be introduced in the Michigan Legislature is expected to propose higher vehicle registration fees and tax changes to raise more money for road repairs. The bipartisan bills will have support from Republican Governor Rick Snyder. He says Michigan is under-investing in its roads to the tune of $1.4 billion a year.
    

Snyder says it would make more financial sense to start addressing the problem now. The repair bill will be even worse the longer Michigan waits to address the problem.
    

There’s a sense of gloom throughout the mass transit community in Michigan today. Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he was canceling the long-talked about light rail line to be built up Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

They’ve been discussing light rail in the Woodward corridor for more than forty years. Few remember now, but Detroit’s much ridiculed People Mover was originally intended as the embryo of such a system, to which it would later be connected. Recently, light rail was thought to be only a matter of time.

Michael Kumm / Flickr

The group that runs the People Mover (Detroit's downtown light-rail system)  announced today that it has secured enough funding to operate the system though June 2013.

Officials from the Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC) say they "have a special reason to give thanks this season" because they've made up for a $3.4 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. The system will also get $6.2 million for following fiscal year.

The money is coming from an escrow account set up in 1989 for maintenance of the People Mover’s guideway system. Officials say the guideway structure is "sound and has been maintained in good condition."

The Detroit News reports the system has seen cuts from city government and the state:

The City Council cut the People Mover's annual subsidy in July by almost a quarter to $3.4 million. That triggered the state of Michigan to reduce its $3.6 million matching subsidy to $1 million — a big blow to the system's $15 million budget...

Officials increased the People Mover's fares to 75 cents from 50 cents last month — the first bump in the system's 24-year history. But the system has never come close to its break-even point, which would require 10 times more annual ridership.

The News reports that fares from 2.3 million riders in 2010 generated $900,000.

M1 Rail

The on-again-off-again light rail plan in Detroit is now officially "off," according to the Detroit Free Press.

A light-rail system was planned between downtown Detroit and 8 Mile Rd.

The paper reports the $25 million pledged to the project from a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant will go toward a bus system instead.

From the Free Press:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Detroit Mayor Dave Bing that doubts that Detroit could pay operating costs over the long term for the light-rail line because of its and the state’s financial problems swayed him against the plan. The decision came despite earlier public support that included LaHood’s 2010 visit to Detroit to award a $25-million grant to get the project moving.

LaHood, President Barack Obama’s top transportation official, met last week with Bing and Snyder, and the sides agreed that the better option is a system of rapid-transit buses operating in dedicated lanes on routes from downtown to and through the suburbs along Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan avenues and along M-59, the officials said.

Private and philanthropic investors had pledged $100 million toward the light rail project. Though some investors had shown signs of wavering.

The Free Press reports the decision to scrap the light-rail plan "outraged Megan Owens, director of the Detroit advocacy group Transportation Riders United." Advocates said the investments made in light-rail line would lead to redevelopment along Woodward Avenue:

 “We’re basically throwing away a $3-billion economic development investment,” Owens said. “I’m outraged Mayor Bing would let this happen on his watch.”

Critics of the project said the light-rail project would be a waste of money and could suffer the same fate as the People Mover in Detroit. That system has been struggling to remain economically viable.

According to a press release from the office of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the federal Department of Transportation has granted $3.6 million to the St. Clair County Road Commission for repairs on a section of Smiths Creek Road. Work will take place on a 2.6 mile stretch of the road and will include replacement of a bridge spanning the Pine River.

From the press release:

Priestmangoode

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in Michigan for high speed higher speed rail.

For that, we'll get trains that can travel 110 m.p.h. for much of the Detroit to Chicago trip.

A modest boost in speed is about as much as we can ask for given the state of our infrastructure (over the summer, some passenger trains in Michigan were ordered to travel at 25 m.p.h. because of the sorry state of the tracks).

One drawback to train travel is the number of stops along the way. Detroit to Chicago has stops in Dowagiac, Niles, and New Buffalo, Michigan.

What if the train could just slow down around those stops?

Behold the "Moving Platforms" concept from Paul Priestman of the English design group Priestmangoode (bob head while watching):

O.k. - this pie-in-the-sky idea has been around for awhile. New Scientist magazine writes that they first featured an article about a similar idea in 1969.

Priestman told CNN that its valuable to throw off the chains and think big:

While Priestman admits that it will be some time before his vision could be implemented, he says the time has come to rethink how we travel.

"This idea is a far-future thought but wouldn't it be brilliant to just re-evaluate and just re-think the whole process?" he says.

But why not dream big?

Meet George Jetson while you think about it:

annarborbridges.com

Demolition of two crumbling bridges near Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor will start November 28th, according to the city of Ann Arbor.

The Stadium Boulevard bridges were built in 1928 and they span South State Street and the Ann Arbor Railroad. The bridges have been in need of repair or replacement for some time and are considered "functionally obsolete."

The city of Ann Arbor was hoping federal transportation funds would come through to help rebuild the bridges. After missing out on one round, federal funding eventually did come through.

A $13.9 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation's "Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery" (TIGER) program will help pay for part of the project. The remainder of the funding will come from the state of Michigan ($300,000), and the city of Ann Arbor ($6,600,000).

Draft Michigan Rail Plan / MDOT

This was an interesting graph I came across in MDOT's draft report, Michigan State Rail Plan.

The miles of railroad we have in the state today, match what we had back in 1880.

The state went from a peak of 9,059 miles in 1909, to 3,900 miles today - a decline of almost 60%.

It makes sense.

The internal combustion engine began competing with rail at the turn of the last century. Trucks and cars began moving more freight and people.

MDOT

Most of the upgrades are happening along the Detroit to Chicago route. That's because this line was designated as a high speed rail corridor by the federal government back in 1992.

With that designation comes federal grant dollars.

And recently, it has meant hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and federal transportation officials will speak today at a conference in Lansing on improving rail service in Michigan.

Michigan has 540 miles of publicly owned rail.

The governor has called for improving and expanding that system to move people and cargo more quickly and efficiently. He said he will seek more federal dollars and wants part of vehicle registration fees to be used for improving mass transit. 

“He believes very strongly that infrastructure is very important both to Michigan’s economy and to the future and that rail is very important to that mix, both passenger and freight," said Sara Wurfel, the governor's press secretary.

The state recently won a federal grant to purchase and upgrade 140 miles of track to be part of accelerated rail service between Detroit and Chicago. The governor’s plans for the state include making Michigan a central point in a regional business corridor that runs from Chicago to Toronto.

Mike Russell / wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder said the state needs to invest more money in its roads and bridges, and he said he’ll continue to push for a new, publicly owned bridge linking Detroit and Canada.

Snyder made the remarks in a special message to the Legislature today.

He said a new international bridge will help create jobs and more markets for Michigan products.

“We’ve had some setbacks, but again, following my philosophy of relentless positive action we are going to stay relentless because I believe it’s in the best interest of all our citizens… You couldn’t find a better partner in the world than to partner with our neighbors in Canada and build a bridge,” said Snyder.

Governor Snyder wants lawmakers to find nearly $1.5 billion in additional revenue to help pay for road and bridge repairs and maintenance.  He says one way to fund that would be to eliminate the 15-cent fuel tax at the pump in exchange for a wholesale gasoline tax.

user nirbhao / Flickr

In a speech today directed toward the Michigan Legislature, Governor Snyder expressed his desire to improve just about every bit of infrastructure in the state.

Roads, bridges, airports, ports, rail, water lines, sewage pipes, and broadband Internet connectivity - it was all on the table, and the Michigan Governor said the state's infrastructure was suffering from a lack of investment.

The Governor said the state's economic recovery is tied to investing in all these bits of infrastructure, and that there is "no time to waste."

aflyingpsychofly / Flickr

Governor Snyder is set to deliver an address this afternoon in Southfield about how he plans to improve infrastructure and transportation in the state. Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark spoke with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry this morning about what we should expect to hear from Governor Snyder.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Detroit school cited for overcrowding

Last week, the Detroit News reported on overcrowding in DPS classrooms. They reported on 55 kindergartners in a class at Nolan Elementary School, and that a science course in a DPS high school had 72 students. Now there's news of one school being cited by the city's fire department.

From the Detroit News:

A Detroit public school was cited Tuesday by the Detroit Fire Marshal's Office for overcrowding after a parent complained to fire officials that too many children were in her son's kindergarten class.

Lt. Gerod Funderburg of the Detroit Fire Department said the fire marshal's office issued a citation at Nolan Elementary School, 1150 Lantz.

"They went out today and issued a ticket for overcrowding," Funderburg said.

Detroit home prices on the rebound?

Home prices have been sliding in Detroit prior to the Great Recession, but there are some good signs in Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Low inventories of homes on the market and increased demand have hoisted metro Detroit home prices by 6.1% since the beginning of the year, according to research by IHS Global Insight.

So are home prices finally on the rebound after five years in decline -- or is this a temporary lull before another big drop during the fall?

Most industry experts don't expect a huge drop, but IHS has forecast another 5% to 10% home price decline nationwide before recovery begins.

An analyst told the Free Press that because Detroit entered the housing slump before the rest of the country, it might recover ahead of the rest of the country as well - especially as the region adds more jobs.

Smashed pumpkins on the morning commute

From the Associated Press:

It was no treat driving on a Detroit-area freeway after a truck dumped a load of pumpkins during the morning commute.

Hundreds of pumpkins were scattered Wednesday across several lanes of traffic on eastbound Interstate 696 in Farmington Hills.

Many of the pumpkins were pulverized as drivers passed through. Video from a traffic camera showed motorists slowly making their way through the pre-Halloween mess.

WWJ-AM reports snow plows later were used to clear what remained of the pumpkins from the roadway.

Michigan State Police Sgt. James Kemp tells the Detroit Free Press that one motorist had a smashed  windshield, but no injuries were reported.

Kemp says police stopped the truck and the driver could be cited for having an unstable load.

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is looking how it might move forward construction of a new international bridge connecting Detroit and Canada without the approval of the Legislature.

A measure necessary to project died today (Thursday) in a state Senate committee, and Republican leaders say it appears the bridge project cannot win legislative approval.

But the new Detroit bridge remains central to Snyder’s long-term plans to make Michigan a Chicago-to-Montreal transportation corridor. Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s spokeswoman. She said the administration is considering its options.

"We have to look at it all, and we will look at it all very closely now because –very disappointed about today. It’s too important to jobs, it’s too important for Michigan. It’s too important to really say goodbye to this kind of money that we can leverage to all parts of our state to fix roads, to fix bridges, and to move forward," said Lasher.

The bridge was also going to be used to leverage millions of dollars in federal road and bridge money for projects across the state.

Lasher says there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the project.

An independent watchdog group called ads being aired statewide by bridge opponents “flagrantly” false.

Matt Picio / Flickr

We reported last week about the federal money coming to the state, and Sarah Hulett reported on more details released yesterday.

In case you missed it, here's how the $46.7 million from Federal Transit Administration’s Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair grant program is broken up in Michigan:

user K_Gradinger / Flickr

A series of bicycle lanes stretching 16 miles and connecting three neighborhoods in southwest Detroit has been completed. The Greenlink is part of the city's urban master plan for non-motorized transportation and allows bike riders safe access to the three historic neighborhoods.
    

A $500,000 Michigan Department of Transportation grant funded 80 percent of the project. Other grants and fundraisers paid for the other 20 percent.
    

Google Maps

A small plane crashed in Allegan County this morning.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that construction workers working on a bridge over U.S. 131 saw the plane approaching the Plainwell Municipal Airport and noticed that it was too low.

The plane clipped the back of a FedEx semi traveling on U.S. 131 before crashing. Chuck Wiersma was one of the construction crew members:

"We said, 'He's not going to make it," Wiersma said. "And he didn't make it."

The plane clipped the truck's trailer and crashed. Paul Brindley, who runs the airport, said the pilot was killed. Police said the truck driver was not hurt.

After the plane crashed, Wiersma said he drove onto northbound U.S. 131 and attempted to stop traffic. He also went to the crash site to see if he could help.

Asked what he saw, Wiersma said, "It was a mess."

At around 9 a.m. this morning, WZZM reported that a stretch of U.S. 131 was closed:

Allegan County Sheriff's Deputies have closed the northbound side of the highway, from M-89 to M-222. It is unclear how long U.S. 131 will remain closed. Drivers are advised to avoid the area.

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