Bus Rapid Transit Suddenly Sidelined in Lansing

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

A much-heralded (but not universally popular) bus rapid transit plan in Lansing, Michigan, could go the way of many in-the-works infrastructure projects under the Trump administration: ground to a sudden, whiplash-inducing halt.

According to the Lansing State Journal, the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) is “slamming the brakes” on its plans to spend $133 million on the proposed line, which would have “used elements of light rail to create a mass transit system that CATA said would be faster and more reliable than traditional bus service.”

The paper adds: “It would have replaced Route 1, the region’s busiest bus route, which serves more than 1.6 million riders annually and runs from the state Capitol along Michigan Avenue to Grand River Avenue, past the Michigan State University campus before ending at Meridian Mall.”

CATA will reportedly suspend the project indefinitely — and the recent federal shakeup is partly to blame. Bradley Funkhouser, the agency’s deputy CEO, told the State Journal that up to $100 million of anticipated Federal Transit Administration funding isn’t in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, released last month.

Lansing isn’t alone in reacting to Trump’s plans for deep cuts, which include reducing U.S. DOT money by 13 percent, even though Congress has yet to meaningfully take up what will and won’t pass. There are signs that a Maryland light-rail project, and light-rail extensions in Seattle and Minneapolis are being similarly impacted.

“There are another 55 projects in the capital investment grants pipeline in the project development or engineering stages that would be stuck in limbo, searching to make up the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in funding they expected from the federal government,” Next City’s Josh Cohen reported this week.

But the federal government isn’t entirely to blame in the case of Lansing, according to the State Journal.

“The project enjoyed the strong support of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, but officials at the other end of the corridor, in Meridian Township, opposed the BRT,” the paper reports.

A hefty sum of $1.2 million in interest and penalties for late payroll taxes between 2014 and 2016 was recently added to CATA’s woes. And ridership across the agency’s system declined between 2011 and 2016.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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Tags: transportation spendingbus rapid transittrump and cities