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$36B transit plan includes widening of I-75, I-94

By Marlon A. Walker, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

After tense debate over projects that would add lanes to I-75 in Oakland County and I-94 in Detroit, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ general assembly adopted its $36-billion transit plan for the region that includes funding for the expansion projects.

The 2040 Regional Transportation Plan calls for reconstructing I-75 between 8 Mile and M-59 in Oakland County and I-94 from Conner to I-96 in Detroit, adding one lane in each direction and improving interchanges. The I-94 project includes bridges over the interstate for Van Dyke and Gratiot, which will be finished this year and next year, respectively, at a cost of $2.7 billion in federal and state bonds. The I-75 project will be completed in seven segments, the last of which is expected to be complete by 2033, at a cost of $1.3 billion in federal funds.

About two dozen residents voiced their displeasure over the I-75 and I-94 projects.

Detroit Councilman Gary Brown, who is a member of the assembly, at one point sought an amendment to send the two projects back to a committee, but that amendment failed.

The projects are among about 1,000 in the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which will spend $36 billion in federal, state and local sources through 2040 on projects across southeast Michigan.

“We start looking at a forecast of where the population is going to be, where the jobs are going to be, where the activity center is going to be,” said Paul Tait, SEMCOG’s executive director. “We use that and we forecast what the likely travel is on our roads. We want to build our roads not too small because we have to tear them up and add lanes later and we don’t want them too big where we’re wasting taxpayer dollars. It’s in that context over the next 25-plus years that the I-94 and I-75 projects are occurring.”

SEMCOG spokeswoman Sue Stetler said it took at least a year for site work, modeling and environmental testing, among other things, to get the plan ready for the general assembly, made up of representatives from the 158 member communities across seven counties SEMCOG covers.

Before the meeting, about three dozen residents gathered outside the Atheneum Hotel in Greektown where the meeting was held and carried signs and chanted against the reconstruction projects. Joel Batterman, of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), said widening would mean the loss of more than 50 homes in Detroit, Hazel Park and Madison Heights.

“We feel like that’s something we can’t afford, both in dollar terms and in terms of the people that would be displaced and the communities that would be disrupted,” said Batterman, whose organization was among those who organized the rally. “It doesn’t make sense when we can’t maintain the roaads we already have, let alone new ones.”

Jeffrey Jenks, a Huntington Woods city commissioner, said the widening of the freeways would help keep truck traffic off surface streets, something he says will be needed once a new bridge to Canada is built.

A plan to rework the ramps at the Lodge freeway and I-75 will make it easier for motorists to navigate the interchange.

“I think it’s good for the region,” Jenks said.

Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, said she was not surprised the plan was approved but was disappointed.

“It’s wasteful spending. Our population is not growing. The number of miles we’re driving is not growing. Why is our highway system growing?”

This story originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press on June 20, 2013 and is available here:

By Mary Jean Traeger

Over the past few years, people in the Springfield area have been introduced to the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, a faith-based, community-organizing group that includes churches as well as labor unions and other groups with shared values.  Faith Coalition has become known for its advocacy for justice for people who often do not have a voice in society.

In the past year, Faith Coalition, while continuing its efforts in the broader community, has also initiated a process to enliven its own members, especially its churches. The program is “Fire of Faith: Rekindling Our Congregations.” All places of worship – churches, synagogues, mosques, temples – have as their primary purpose to draw people into a deep relationship with the Holy One. The centerpiece of the Fire of Faith campaign is the belief that each congregation, grounded in its own faith tradition, can grow in faith together when people who worship together regularly come to know one another, sharing their joys and struggles, supporting one another in faith. In other words, our relationship with God – by whatever name we use – can be strengthened by our relationships with other members of our congregation.

To that end, the National Gamaliel Foundation has developed a process that begins with training leaders and members of congregations to conduct one-on-one “sacred conversations” with each other.  The goals of these conversations are straightforward:  to build relationships among members; to hear dreams and concerns members have about their church;  to learn about talents and giftedness members bring to the church; to foster deeper participation in the life of the church, including outreach beyond themselves.

The process is ongoing as those who were first interviewed are then trained to conduct their own sacred conversations with the hope of reaching as many members as possible. Church leaders and Rekindling Our Congregations Coordinating Teams collate information gleaned from these conversations, along with data from a brief written survey of all members, to analyze the effectiveness of current ministries and to plan for the church’s future.  Information is shared with the whole congregation so that all may have ownership of the results and work together for the good of the whole body.

It is hoped that the sacred conversations will become a regular part of church life, a way to welcome new members, deepen relationships with those already in the church, reach out to those who have drifted away from the church and stay in touch with those whose age and health may eventually prevent their church attendance.

Three Springfield congregations are currently participating in this year-long process: Calvary Baptist Church, St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish and Union Baptist Church.  Other members of Faith Coalition for the Common Good are encouraged to consider future participation.  Though the process is specifically designed for churches, it can easily be adapted to any organization that believes in the value of fostering relationships as core to the organization’s life.

Sr. Mary Jean Traeger is the pastoral facilitator of St. Katharine Drexel Parish and the vice president of Faith Coalition for the Common Good.  For more information about the Fire of Faith: Rekindling Our Congregations process, contact Faith Coalition for the Common Good at 544-2297;

This story originally appeared in the Springfield, IL State Journal-Register on July 20, 2013 and is available here:

Transit advocates in southeast Michigan heralded the start of a “new era in public transportation," as a Regional Transit Authority’s board met for the first time Wednesday.

The RTA board consists of representatives from Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties, and the city of Detroit.

Its mission is to coordinate the region’s historically fragmented transit agencies--and pave the way for truly regional rapid transit.

The board did relatively little at its good-natured first meeting. Members retained legal counsel, discussed how to manage its initial $250,000 state appropriation, and took public comment.

Macomb County Commissioner David Flynn said the event is worth celebrating.

But, Flynn cautions, “It’s the beginning of a long, strategic plan of how we get rolling rapid transit…and how we finally connect the economic and the social fabric of southeast Michigan together.”

It was an emotional day for some, like Cindy Reese, who got involved in the fight for better transit after her grandson expressed frustration that he couldn’t get to school.

“When we didn’t have an RTA, we kind of felt like we didn’t have hope,” Reese said tearfully. “Now, we have hope.”

Advocates want the board to develop a master transit plan, put a transit funding mechanism up for a region-wide vote, and conduct a national search for its CEO. A Citizens Advisory Committee will also have input, but hasn't been formed yet.

This story originally appeared on Michigan Radio on April 10, 2013 and is available here:

06 24 2013 TRANSIT FORUM

Transit Riders United (TRU), of Western New York, holds a public forum on having voting representation on the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Board of Commissioners. Participating are NYS Senator Jim Kennedy, and NYS Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

Transit Riders, Mike Rogers and Marie Malinowski, do the ask for this meeting with the Assemblyman and Senator. 

Groups call on CTA to require new rail car makers to detail future local jobs

By Jon Hilkevitch

Chicago labor and community groups on Monday called on the Chicago Transit Authority to require bidders on future rail car manufacturing contracts to submit detailed plans for creating local jobs.

In a letter to CTA president Forrest Claypool, leaders of nine groups complained that work forces in the Chicago area and statewide have not participated in the ongoing manufacture of more than 700 rail cars by Montreal-based Bombardier Transportation, which was awarded a $1.14 billion CTA contract.

The groups said the exclusion cost the region and Illinois thousands of jobs.

They asked the CTA to change its current solicitation to potential bidders on the next procurement of rail cars, slated to be built over the next 10 years, to require them to disclose, before any contract award, where and how many jobs would be created by the manufacture of the equipment.

“This American Jobs Plan disclosure requirement should include information about the quantity, proposed wages and benefits, location, investment in work force training and plans for recruitment of disadvantaged workers related to the proposed manufacture of the vehicles,’’ said the letter, signed by officials of the Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Jobs with Justice, Citizen Action/Illinois, Gamaliel of Metro Chicago and other labor, business and faith-based groups.

CTA officials responded by saying they have had “numerous discussions’’ with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which promotes the concept of public agencies asking bidders on projects to disclose where and how many jobs will be created.

“We share the goal of promoting American and local job opportunities. We pledge to continue to work with labor and federal officials to find common ground on this issue,’’ said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.

The Bombardier 5000 Series rail cars currently being made for the CTA are assembled in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and some of the major components are made in Mexico and overseas. For months last year the supplies included defective wheel parts from a foundry in China that Bombardier fired after the Tribune disclosed the problem.

CTA officials in February solicited design proposals from rail car manufacturers to build a next-generation car to be called the 7000 Series.Ö The contract for up to 846 cars is projected at about $2 billion.

“We believe that, with continued high levels of unemployment and poverty in Illinois and the U.S., such a large expenditure of taxpayer funds must be seen as an opportunity to create a win-win for Chicago, Illinois and the country,’’ the letter said.

The request goes beyond the federal Buy America requirements that the cost of components produced in the U.S. is more than 60 percent of the total equipment costs.

The backers of the American Jobs Plan said the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the L.A. Metro system, included the plan’s provisions in its contract award this year for 550 buses and in 2011 for up to 235 light rail cars.

CTA officials said Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Claypool have made local contracting and job opportunities a top priority. They cited the Red Line South reconstruction project, which has created jobs for Chicagoans and for which more than $100 million in construction contracts have gone to Illinois companies, many of which are based in the Chicago area. 

In addition, a recent purchase of new CTA buses included seats that are manufactured by a West Side company, transit officials said.

This story originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on June 17, 2013 and is available here:,0,4279671.story