Speak up for wiser investments in transportation

I learned from 1000 Friends Of Iowa that the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are seeking public input on two important issues.

The DOT is finalizing the Statewide Public Transportation Study and will make recommendations to the state legislature in December. Officials want to hear from Iowans about:

   * Baseline level of service for public transportation in Iowa

   * Gap analysis between baseline service and public transportation demands of Iowans.

   * Transportation services needed to close these gaps.

   * The additional cost of these services.

   * Addressing Iowa’s energy conservation goals.

   * The range of possible funding concepts to address service needs.

   * Draft findings of the study to date.

You can comment on any of these issues at public meetings in Centerville, Sioux City, Des Moines, Iowa City, Bettendorf, or Waterloo on September 15-17 (event details are after the jump). Alternatively, you can submit comments through an online survey at www.iRIDE21.com.

Anyone with an opinion on how to improve Iowa’s passenger transportation should let the DOT know. You do not have to be an expert or policy wonk. Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves passengers money while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who saves thousands of dollars a year through the Des Moines Area Transit Authority’s Rideshare program.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is hosting the last series of public input meetings on the Horizon Year 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. They need to hear from central Iowa residents who are concerned about land use, air quality and global warming.

Although reducing vehicle miles driven is a critical element of any plan to address greenhouse gas emissions, the DMAMPO’s plan for the next 25 years involves 341 projects that, if completed, would increase vehicle miles traveled in our region by 33 percent (by the DMAMPO’s own calculations). 1000 Friends of Iowa adds:

The study also indicated that despite increases in [vehicle miles traveled], cleaner vehicles and fuels will result in continued reductions in vehicle pollutant emissions.  Gasoline was used in their project model.  However, when ethanol was used the increase in CO2 was 66% higher.  DNR Air Quality Division has studies which conclude that emissions with ethanol are substantially higher.   It seems this plan will not reduce VMTs or promote cleaner air.

The DMAMPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) is hosting the final series of public input meetings to receive input and comments on the HY 2035 MTP final draft. You must tell the DMAMPO that Central Iowans want to concentrate more transportation dollars on alternatives which will promote the responsible use of our states resources, land water and air. This is the most important series of meetings, please mark your calendars, plan to attend and make your opinion count!

The DMAMPO meetings are on September 15 and 16 at the North Side Library in Des Moines. Event details are in the 1000 Friends of Iowa action alert, which I’ve posted after the jump. That also includes talking points as well as contact information for those who prefer to submit written comments to the DMAMPO. Anyone can send a comment; you do not have to have attended a public meeting.

On a related note, today is the last day to submit a comment urging the DNR to protect water quality in Iowa’s cleanest lakes and streams. Please take a minute to send an e-mail to the right DNR officials.

So much policy that affects our lives is made below the radar. If I weren’t involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa, I would never have heard of these discussions about transportation priorities. If I weren’t involved with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, I would not have heard of the debate over water quality rules either. I encourage you to join some non-profit organizations that are active on matters important to you. You will become much more informed than if you rely solely on the mainstream media.

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Action: Public meeting on transportation policy tonight

I didn’t know about this event when I posted my weekly calendar, but I received an action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa about an important meeting tonight in Des Moines. The full action alert is after the jump, including details on the place and time. Here is an excerpt:

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) & the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have scheduled a Public Input Meeting to gather comments from citizens regarding the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (DMAMPO) transportation planning process.

Every four years the FHWA & the FTA conduct a certification review of the DMAMPO. The review evaluates the effectiveness of the DMAMPO’s transportation planning process, and ensures federal guidelines are being followed. Each MPO is required to solicit and utilize citizen input in local transportation decisions. If citizen input isn’t resulting in changes that reflect the unique transportation needs of the community, the public participation process must be adjusted to make certain it does. […]

The experience of 1000 Friends of Iowa is that the FHA pays attention to the comments of citizens. In the 2005 Transportation Planning Certification Review Summary Report under “Overview of Findings From the 2005 Certification Review”, the FHWA & FTA noted that “The Year 2030 Long-Range Transportation Plan appears to be a collection of local transportation desires rather than a document offering a regional focus for the Des Moines metropolitan area’s future transportation system. The Plan needs to provide a regional vision, rather than just serve as a compilation of local priorities.”  

(emphasis added) With federal stimulus dollars on the way and the state of Iowa potentially

issuing new bonds to pay for infrastructure, it is critical that we not blindly follow a bunch of local wish lists for new roads. We should fix what we have first.

Speaking of which, a new national survey by Hart Research Associates found that

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads […]

To accommodate future U.S. population growth, which is expected to increase by 100 million by 2050, Americans favor improving intercity rail and transit, walking and biking over building new highways. When asked what the federal government’s top priority should be for 2009 transportation funding, half of all respondents recommended maintaining and repairing roads and bridges, while nearly one third said “expanding and improving bus, rail, and other public transportation.” Only 16 percent said “expanding and improving roads, highways, freeways and bridges.”

When asked about approaches to addressing traffic, 47 percent preferred improving public transportation, 25 percent chose building communities that encourage people not to drive, and 20 percent preferred building new roads. fifty-six percent of those surveyed believe the federal government is not devoting enough attention to trains and light rail systems, and three out of four favor improving intercity rail and transit.

Transportation for America, a new coalition of more than 225 organizations, has called on President Barack Obama and Congress to “launch a new federal transportation mission.” The federal transportation program comes up for reauthorization in Congress later this year.

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