Chamber of Commerce Votes Against BRT

Tuesday, August 23, 2016, 1:49 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Design for a BRT stop near Whole Foods in East Lansing, courtesy of CATA.

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce announced today its opposition to CATA’s current Bus Rapid Transit plan. This comes as local public transportation provider CATA is facing a September 2 federal grant deadline for the next steps of the project’s planning process. The project is set to create bus-only traffic lanes from the Lansing Capitol to Meridian Township along what is currently CATA’s #1 bus route.

According to the Chamber’s announcement, “The decision not to support the BRT system comes following months of research,” including “trips to other communities that have invested in similar systems, policy committee meeting with Chamber members, a presentation from CATA leadership and a member survey.”

Concerns raised by the Chamber include “no clear revenue projections” for the BRT, “significant disruption from the loss of the center turn lane for businesses along the corridor,” and concerns about “how funding gaps will be filled if federal and state funding falls short.”

East Lansing does not have a separate Chamber of Commerce. The Lansing Regional Chamber includes some East Lansing businesses. Until late last year, the City of East Lansing was a member of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, but East Lansing’s City Council voted to end the City’s membership following the Regional Chamber’s involvement in the City Council election.

The current East Lansing City Council has not taken a position on CATA’s BRT project but is set to hear a presentation on it at its September 20 discussion-only meeting. ELi has previously reported that Meridian Township’s Board has formally voted against the BRT project and that MSU’s leadership has raised concerns about it over the last several years.

Last week, East Lansing City Councilmember Shanna Draheim, Council liaison to East Lansing’s Transportation Commission, told the Commission at its meeting, “Personally I am very supportive of the project, but there are a lot of concerns in Meridian Township.” Draheim sometimes rides the #1 bus route to and from work and supports CATA’s view that overcrowding on the route requires a BRT solution.

East Lansing Transportation Commission member Rory Neuner, who also serves on CATA’s Board, spoke strongly in favor of the project at the Transportation Commission meeting. She said CATA is working to address concerns raised about the project and noted that the design process is only about thirty percent complete, leaving time for changes to address concerns.

Transportation Commission member Thomas Baumann said he thought that fears about negative impacts on Meridian Township businesses will not be borne out, and that the project might improve the situation for cyclists in the area by addressing their concerns about the current lack of accommodation for bicycles along the corridor.

Baumann did express concern about CATA’s plan to put bicycle lanes in center green meridians along Michigan Avenue in East Lansing because of how intersections would work. Neuner said she shared this concern but expected to see these issues worked out in the design process.

During the BRT discussion, East Lansing’s Design Engineer Steve Roach told the Commission there had been “ongoing discussion” with MSU’s engineering staff about possibly limiting the dedicated bus lanes to the Michigan Avenue portion of the route. But Neuner said that the CATA Board has not approved any changes to the current route plan.

Speaking with me after the meeting, Neuner said she had been reaching out to members of the East Lansing City Council and has heard a lot of support for the project. She said it was critical that CATA and other regional transportation planners and managers deal with the growth in population occurring in the region, including along the corridor with projects like the large apartment complex now under construction on Michigan Avenue near the Frandor shopping center.

Asked about why CATA does not go for a more modest project that might not cause the changes objected to by some of the opponents, Neuner explained that the project is designed to rely chiefly on federal funding, and that the Federal Transit Administration tends to support major projects, not smaller ones.

Because the City of Lansing and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) own the roads on which the project would occur, Meridian Township and East Lansing have no formal say in the project. Nevertheless, the votes against by Meridian Township and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as MSU’s hesitancy to support the project, would seem to present hurdles for CATA to overcome in seeking funding.

Yesterday on WKAR’s “Current State,” Mark Bashore interviewed three proponents of the BRT. These included Joe Ross, identified as an East Lansing business owner and fiscal conservative who supports the BRT. Ross is an owner of Communications & Research, Inc., a public relations firm with offices on Harrison Road just north of Grand River Avenue. The other guests included Sean Hammond, founder of Capital Area Transit Supporters, and Bob Swanson, vice chair of CATA’s Board. A recording of the program is available.

The three were unified in the belief that the project will be good for the region and that concerns raised about business access, accommodations for people with disabilities, and the like will be well managed in the coming design process. Ross dismissed concerns about the project’s need to reduce the green, tree-lined median in downtown East Lansing, saying, “This is so much bigger than trees and about twenty feet of a grass median.”

Ross is the past Chairman of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s Health Policy Committee. He told Bashore the area needs population density along the corridor, and that this project can help achieve that. He concluded about the BRT, “I see this as an economic engine for the future.”