Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 13, 2012

Funding issues leave Division's fate unknown

Voters said yes, but MDOT still has issues with project


TRAVERSE CITY — Fixing the crowded and sometimes dangerous Division Street traffic corridor will take years and no one knows yet how the project will be funded, Michigan's top transportation official said.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, said a Nov. 6 vote that gave Traverse City officials permission to part with 30 feet of property along Division greatly enhances potential solutions for the roadway.

But Steudle cautioned the project will take lots of time, community consensus and money, the latter of which currently is not available.

"Anybody that thinks by next Labor Day we'll have this done? No," Steudle said. "It's going to be a collaborative process."

Division Street fixes are not budgeted for in MDOT's five-year road and bridge plan.

"Our issue right now is we don't have any money," Steudle said. "We don't have any funding to do this. We are starting this process understanding we don't have a pot of gold. We've got to figure out something that works here and, frankly, it's a longer-term solution."

Voters on Nov. 6 gave the city permission to part with 30 feet of property along Division if city officials agree with the state's plans fixes to the roadway. The proposal gave the city a 10-year window to act.

Last week, local attorney Grant Parsons said he'll challenge the public vote on Division because the city charter requires 60 percent of voters to approve the measure.

The Division Street proposal passed just shy of that, with 59 percent of the vote.

Mayor Michael Estes on Monday called Parsons' challenge "ludicrous." A city attorney already determined the 60 percent requirement is invalid.

"There's nothing to challenge," Estes said. "Are you going to file for an injunction to stop us from talking to MDOT? That's what we are doing."

Steudle said he's aware of the legal challenge. It "will work its way through the system," he said.

Steudle was in Traverse City on Monday to survey improvements in northern Michigan's public transit system, including the launch of a regional bus route connection between the Bay Area Transportation Authority and the Benzie Bus. The new connection allows Benzie County commuters to ride fixed bus routes into Traverse City more frequently.

Steudle, speaking at a Grand Vision-sponsored panel discussion, said regional cooperation like the one between BATA and Benzie Bus is encouraging. He also said the state's funding system for transportation is in dramatic need of an overhaul.

"We have a problem across the state," Steudle said. "We are disinvesting in transportation as a whole — for roads, bridges, rail, all of it. We've got to stop that decline."