Five-year transportation plan receives federal approval

Pavement conditions and traffic congestion top public’s list of GVMC priorities.
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Traffic congestion in West Michigan is one of the concerns voiced on the public survey portion of the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Photo by iStock

The Metropolitan Transportation Plan for Kent and Ottawa counties has cleared federal approval.

The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council received notification from the Federal Highway Administration on June 5 that its 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan conforms to federal regulations and has been formally accepted.

The GVMC 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan was assembled and edited in late 2019 by GVMC staff after nearly two years of planning. The process included guidance from the MTP Steering Committee, the GVMC Transportation Policy and Technical committees, the Transportation Programming Study Group, stakeholders and the general public.

One of the first steps in the development of the MTP was conducting a public survey, which asked the public to rank various aspects of the transportation system, what their top three transportation investment priorities were in light of available funding, whether or not they would be willing to pay more through a slight increase in the gas tax or a small local millage to improve the transportation system, and whether they had any comments or concerns about the transportation system.

“We had 867 responses from the public who were inclusive to our entire MPO area,” said Andrea Faber, transportation planner for GVMC. “One of the other questions was, ‘Where was your ZIP code?’ so we could pinpoint where issues with the transportation system were.”

The GVMC Technical Committee approved the plan in March and the Policy Committee approved it in April. The GVMC board unanimously approved a resolution accepting the plan early in May.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Transit Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation also reviewed the plan as part of the confirmation process.

According to the survey, the public’s top interest was to improve roadway pavement condition (68.3%), followed by a desire to reduce traffic congestion and delays (43.48%), widen busy roads and interchanges (36.68%), and enhance public transit (34.60%).

“Our planners used innovative methods to obtain three times the volume of public input compared to the 2015 survey,” said John Weiss, executive director. “The key thing we’re most proud of is the significant public input we got this time.”

The results of the survey mirror the feedback from the 2040 MTP survey conducted in 2015.

Dennis Kent, region transportation planner for the Michigan Department of Transportation, also praised GVMC’s efforts to engage a large portion of the public in the process.

“They’ve done a great job of gathering information and collaborating with MDOT, local agencies, The Rapid and federal agencies to identify the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s areawide needs and federal priorities,” Kent said. “We look forward to working with GVMC in implementing this plan.”

The 2045 MTP outlines transportation projects and funding priorities for the next 25 years and addresses all aspects of the system, including road conditions, traffic congestion, safety, freight movement, passenger rail, air travel, non-motorized transportation and public transit.

The MTP allows Kent and eastern Ottawa counties to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars for road/transportation projects for years to come. Without an MTP, federal transportation funding could not be allocated to the region.

Throughout the development of this MTP, efforts were made to establish a basic vision of where West Michigan’s transportation system would need to be in the year 2045 and how the system could achieve optimal performance. Issues related to the condition of the pavement, the reliability of travel times, the convenience of the local transit system, the availability of alternate means of transportation and the efficiency of moving freight throughout the system all were analyzed.

The Business Journal previously reported, in order to achieve a PASER rating of 6, or “fair,” for pavement, GVMC would need a 50% increase in the annual budget, or $20.5 million, which would bring the total annual investment for pavement from $41 million to $61.5 million.

In this scenario, the amount of pavement funding needed over the life of the MTP would be over $1.5 billion.

Potential future funding as identified by the MTP includes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which would raise over $2 billion to fix Michigan roads over one year.

In the fall of 2019, the state budget moved forward without Whitmer’s 45-cents-per-gallon increase. However, negotiations about how to more fully fund Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure are continuing, which GVMC officials hope will lead to additional transportation funding.

GVMC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for Kent and eastern Ottawa counties. As such, GVMC is responsible for developing a long-range, multimodal transportation plan, which is updated every four years.

GVMC’s coverage area encompasses approximately 3,580 road miles, including county roads, state roads, trunklines, etc.

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