The Grand Valley Metro Council gave its Policy Committee sole authority last week to choose which transportation construction projects in the region will be funded by the federal government’s proposed economic stimulus package.
Board members temporarily delegated their authority to the committee to shorten the approval process. They want to make sure the selected projects will be “shovel ready” and able to meet the timing requirements that will be attached to the funding.
“We’re trying to meet the deadline,” said GVMC Transportation Director Abed Itani. “We’re not sure (when that will be), but we’re trying to get ready.”
As of late last week, the stimulus package totaled $922 billion, and $30 billion of that amount was targeted for transportation. Itani said the region is likely to receive from $13 million to $20 million. A final figure will depend on the bill the U.S. House and U.S. Senate iron out in conference.
But whatever amount the region receives, half of those dollars will have to be committed to projects within 90 to 180 days of the bill’s passage. The House has chosen 90 days, while the Senate is leaning toward 180 days. The timing will also be hammered out in conference.
“We’re just trying to speed up the process,” said Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula.
If the region can’t meet the commitment deadline, then the funding awarded to West Michigan will have to be returned to Lansing. Then the state can redistribute that money however it chooses.
“We will be hard pressed to come up with $13 million that will be shovel ready in 90 days,” said Michael DeVries, Grand Rapids Township supervisor.
DeVries also pointed out that when the first 90 days worth of projects are selected, the council will have to line up the next 90 days worth. After that second list is compiled, the council will have to create next year’s list, as the second half of the stimulus funding will likely be targeted for 2010.
“We have to be sure that we invest these funds wisely,” said DeVries. “We have a lot of faith and confidence in the committee.”
The Policy Committee has 35 members and is chaired by Peter Varga, executive director of The Rapid and the Interurban Transit Partnership.
Itani said other metropolitan planning organizations, such as the Metro Council, have also delegated their approval power to committees for the stimulus’s transportation funding. He said state and federal law lets the council do that. Stypula said the council’s by-laws don’t prohibit a transfer of authority. Itani added that if the committee wasn’t given the right to choose the projects, the council would likely miss the deadline.
“Whoever put the (House) bill together for 90 days doesn’t understand how this works,” he said.
Once the committee approves the projects, the list goes to the Michigan Department of Transportation and then to the Federal Highway Administration. Itani said MDOT needs from four to six weeks with the list before the state agency can send it to Washington, D.C., for final approval.
“I like the idea of a progressive readiness,” said Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets.
Itani said when he asked the council’s member communities to send him the transit and transportation projects they wanted done, he received a list of 123 projects that would cost $157 million to complete. He said the next step is to cut the number to a total of $25 million.
The Metro Council has to approve all transportation projects in the region that receive federal funding. West Michigan receives an average of $9 million each year from the federal government for transportation and transit. Itani said the stimulus dollars the region will receive will not affect the regular yearly funding.