CATA Leader to Retire Amidst Growing BRT Controversy

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Sunday, September 11, 2016, 4:41 pm
Alice Dreger

In a move that appears to have taken many by surprise, CATA’s Assistant Executive Director Debbie Alexander has announced she will be retiring in four months’ time, on January 6, 2017. CATA has not yet announced who will replace Alexander. Along with CATA’s Executive Director Sandy Draggoo, Alexander has been a key driving force behind the controversial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plans, which East Lansing’s City Council is set to discuss at its September 20 meeting. [NOTE: City Council will not discuss it on September 20. Read more about that.]

CATA’s announcement on Alexander’s retirement says that, “For more than 5 years, Alexander and her husband, who has multiple sclerosis, have been planning a move to a warmer climate to enhance his quality of life.” It also says that “Alexander indicated that teaching at the higher education level and coaching future leaders are part of her plan.” The BRT was not mentioned in the resignation.

After its September 20 discussion meeting, East Lansing’s City Council may (or may not) elect to formally endorse or criticize the BRT plans, a move that would be symbolic—East Lansing has no say over whether the project gets built—but potentially important to CATA's chances at federal funding. As ELi has previously reported, local judge Bill Collette and local businessman J.J. Neilson have specifically called on East Lansing to follow the Meridian Township Board’s decision to pass a resolution against the project.

By contrast, Lansing’s Mayor Virg Bernero has been publicly supportive of the project, which would run special buses in dedicated lanes from Lansing’s Capitol to the Meridian Mall. The grassroots group Capital Area Transit Supporters is also for the BRT. (The group does not disclose leaders or members on its website.)

But opposition to the project appears to be mounting, with the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce being the latest group to state formal opposition to the project. The grassroots group Stop CATA’s BRT, with which Collette and Neilson are affiliated, has been putting up bright yellow anti-BRT signs along the proposed route and has also assembled evidence that MSU’s leadership remains critical of the project.

This week, the Lansing City Pulse featured the growing opposition to the project on its front cover, dedicating two special articles to concern about the plans among people with disabilities and bicyclists. The article on bicyclists' view of the BRT includes East Lansing City Council member Erik Altmann expressing skepticism about the wisdom of the plan. Meanwhile, East Lansing City Council member Shanna Draheim has repeatedly expressed her support of the BRT plans.


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