January 18, 2010
Employment positions in this issue's classifieds include an Executive Director; an Executive Director, Operations; and a Chief Operations Officer!
In Lansing, CATA Is Part of a Vision for the Future
BY DEBRA ALEXANDER, Assistant Executive Director, Capital Area Transportation Authority, Lansing, MI
If you only rely on what you read in the press about mid-Michigan’s dramatic job losses and its place at the top of the national unemployment chart, it doesn‘t bode well for the future of this region. There is no question—the economic challenges are significant.
But Greater Lansing’s unstoppable spirit is driving the region forward: incubating entrepreneurial projects, supporting creative ventures, and embarking on new environmental initiatives to take us forward in a new, positive direction.
The shift from a manufacturing focus to the new economy is made possible by rich talent pools created by Michigan State University (MSU) and other local colleges. New information-based, biotech, and environmental firms bring employment opportunities in research and production. MSU’s new $550 million U.S. Department of Energy project—the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams—is attracting interest from top nuclear scientists from around the world. This one project is expected to bring $1 billion in economic activity and 400 jobs to Greater Lansing.
As we focus on this renaissance, we still face formidable economic challenges, and the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) is not immune. Finding ways to do more with less has become the new normal at our system as it is elsewhere. CATA must continue to be visionary planners and vigilant stewards of resources if we are to be a valuable asset in Lansing’s future.
How Transit Fits in This Equation
Faced with daunting challenges, CATA stepped up to the plate; initiating a study for advanced transit infrastructure. We must continue to reinvent and innovate if our region is going to compete in the new economy.
New employers require a different transportation system than was built for a previous employment paradigm. The old emphasis was on moving goods. Today, we are more focused on moving people and ideas. This new purpose—and a renewed interest in sustainability and cost-effectiveness—requires much of what advanced public transportation has to offer.
Seeing this shift several years ago, CATA initiated a transportation study of the Michigan/Grand River Avenue Corridor. This 7.1-mile corridor features the Michigan State Capitol building, a minor-league baseball stadium, MSU, a regional hospital, a shopping mall, and a broad array of retail, housing, and small business. Local plans call for significant density increases and redevelopment in this area.
The corridor has been identified through regional research as a focal point for future economic development in the region, so creative transit solutions will be needed. CATA now provides frequent, daily bus service along the corridor—and service is already running at capacity. In 2005, CATA approached Michigan DOT to encourage the department to perform a study of this corridor, as it is a state trunk line. Michigan DOT replied that it could not fund a transit study, but would be an eager partner should CATA take a leadership role in coordinating a multi-modal transportation study.
The Process So Far
Fast forward to 2009, when, in the midst of stimulus bill discussions, CATA released a request for proposals for a multi-modal corridor study. We assembled a broad coalition of partners including key local governmental agencies, MSU, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. Together, the members of this regional coalition are guiding the study to produce the information our region needs to steer decisions about future transportation.
The study includes four phases: project initiation-vision/ideas; possible corridor transportation options; evaluation of alternatives; and selection of locally preferred alternative. We are currently in the second phase, identifying the universe of transportation options. We anticipate completing this phase in the spring, when we will move forward with the in-depth analysis of the remaining corridor alternatives.
The study oversight team designed a plan to maximize public involvement and transparency throughout the process using the following means:
* Web site;
* Facebook page;
* Media releases;
* Public open houses;
* Online surveys;
* E-mail updates; and
* Person-to-person communications.
The plan is to present study findings and recommendations this coming summer.
Where We Are Going
Public transportation plays a vital role, both now and in the future, in moving our economy forward. By exploring transportation improvements, CATA hopes to be the catalyst that moves economic development plans within our region, and helps build a more livable, sustainable, and vibrant community. Public transportation cannot accomplish these things alone, but is an integral part in the equation for a better, brighter future.