GVMC begins transportation improvement development

Triannual process involves identifying federally funded projects for region.
GVMC’s transportation plan includes roadways that are under federal, state, county and local jurisdiction. Courtesy Kendall Joseph

The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council has begun the process of developing its FY2023-2026 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for Kent and eastern Ottawa counties.

GVMC is the metropolitan planning organization for the greater Grand Rapids area, providing a cooperative, comprehensive and ongoing transportation planning and decision-making process covering all modes of transportation as required by federal law. The TIP identifies and outlines proposed federally funded transportation projects every three years, assembled at the suggestion of local jurisdictions, transit agencies, and state and federal transportation officials, and proposed plans offer multiple opportunities for public input.

The 2023-2026 TIP development process was set in motion on Nov. 10 at Rapid Central Station, as the transportation programming study group, a subcommittee of GVMC’s technical committee, met to begin proposing projects for the upcoming plan, which are illustrated in part on the organization’s deficiency map on its website.

“From 2017 to 2020 we saw our average condition rating for non-MDOT roads slightly increase,” said Laurel Joseph, director of transportation planning for GVMC. “It flattened out a little in 2021, but that could have been related to COVID-19 impacts on the last couple construction seasons. Even with all the projects we do with the federal funding that comes to our region and the money our local agencies are also putting into their roads, and the slight increase in average condition our region has been able to achieve, we still have an average rating in the ‘fair condition’ category.”

According to Joseph, a safety, congestion or condition deficiency must be identified for a project to be considered.

“Our members are really good in terms of collaborating with each other and coming up with a strong list of projects that will hopefully improve the system throughout the region,” Joseph said. “So basically, the deficiency analysis is the key to (proposing projects). So, we want to be good stewards of the federal dollars and state dollars that we receive in this region and really focus on fixing things that have issues.”

The GVMC transportation committee handbook indicates deficiencies are identified through a process called the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) system, where staff representatives from individual jurisdictions collect field data in GVMC’s data collection vehicle. These ratings are then verified by GVMC using data and photos collected concurrently with the automated data collection system.

Federal funds are allocated to projects based on the system’s rating criteria of deficiency severity, and projects receiving funding of any kind are intended to ensure a long-lasting, improved condition. PASER ratings of 8-10 are not eligible for federal funds; a 7 rating is eligible for crack sealing funding; ratings of 5 or 6 are eligible for sealcoat/thin overlay funding; those with a 4 rating can use structural overlay funding; and PASER ratings of 1-3 are eligible for reconstruction funding.

“We have federal performance measures that we have to follow and incorporate into our planning process as well, and so there are performance measures related to congestion and freight, (and) there are performance measures related to safety,” Joseph said. “Each year we have to establish or support targets for different federal performance measures, and safety is one of those measures. We look at the number of crashes, fatalities, and injuries, and the rates of injury and fatality, (along with) non-motorized fatalities and serious injuries and identify where those are occurring. (We then) flag those as safety issues so that we can make sure to incorporate safety improvements in all our projects, as well.”

According to Joseph, 1,547 miles of federal roads were surveyed in the region this year. GVMC also rated 1,037 miles of local roads and the Kent County Road Commission rated 1,014 miles of roads within its jurisdiction. The organization’s deficiency map originally identified 1,517 segments of roadway that are deficient in some way, but Joseph said agencies may split a segment logically or submit a project with multiple segments along a deficient roadway. In addition, there are non-motorized, transit and MDOT needs that are not captured within the deficiency map. New and modified submissions also find their way to committee meetings, and GVMC representatives may move and change projects to meet federal funding targets, making for a malleable number of deficiencies and potential projects, she said.

“Including the current illustrative list, there are over 500 projects total. With the uncertainty related to the additional federal funding that may be coming to our region (from the newly passed federal infrastructure bill), I expect the illustrative list to grow so we are ready if we are able to fund more projects,” she said. “… The number of projects that get programmed really depends upon project costs, but in the last five years we’ve averaged about 115 projects per year in the TIP. … That is one of the reasons why we have really tried to put together a robust, illustrative list of projects so that when we do find out if and how much money we’re going to receive (from the infrastructure bill), that we have good projects to draw from, that we can work fast, and get those improvements in the TIP, as well.”

Joseph said the principal challenge to maintaining pavement in a state of good repair is shortage in funding compared to need. Federal and state agencies provide funding, as well as “locals,” or cities, villages and the county road commission. Locals also have their own funding with a minimum match requirement of 20%.

“So, it’s a lot of federal and state money, but our locals also put in a significant amount. … And a lot of times our locals actually over-match to get more projects into the transportation improvement program so they can stretch those federal dollars. Sometimes, we end up with a 65/35 or a 75/25 match kind of ratio for those.”

All projects using federal transportation funds are required to go through GVMC’s planning process as part of the TIP, with GVMC’s primary goal to use all of those funds, including the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), which provides funding to states for projects designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Joseph said the organization encourages public comment and attendance at planning meetings for well-rounded input on transportation priorities and where dollars are spent. More information is at gvmc.org.

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