Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jobs and Transit Money Needed in Stimulus Bill, Groups Say National Coalition

Jobs and Transit Money Needed in Stimulus Bill, Groups Say
National Coalition Warns That Huge Package Must Help The Needy
Mass Transit Systems Are In Crisis in Many Cities, Coalition Claims

The stimulus bill must result in more funds for mass transit and more jobs for women and minorities essential, according to a national coalition of more than 300 groups called the Transportation Equity Network (TEN). The organizations are working to get Congress to make sure the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes
- increases in operating funds for public transit systems,
- pledges for hundreds of thousands of work hours for low-income people on construction projects, and
- significantly more funds for job training.

ARRA is being debated in the Senate this week.

"We believe that public transit is in crisis. Just in St. Louis, the transit system is laying off 600 workers and mothballing 165 buses. How are people supposed to get to work?" said Ron Trimmer, a TEN board member in the East St. Louis area. "New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta and Denver are all considering raising bus and train fares and slashing service. We must fund the operating costs for public transit in the stimulus bill."

"The package must also include more low-income people in its construction jobs. It can be done - you can have a large project, include low-income folks, and get it done on time,"
said Dr. Todd Swanstrom of University of Missouri - St. Louis.
In Illinois and Missouri, TEN worked with local groups like Metropolitan Congregations United and United Congregations of the Metro East to create a model jobs project on the rebuilding of Interstate 64. Now, 27 percent of the people who are working on the project are low-income folks, women and minorities.

"The Road to Good Jobs", authored by Swanstrom,
examined minority and female employment in 25 metro areas and found that white males dominate construction work, regardless of the racial and gender makeup of the local workforce as a whole. Though representing half of the population, women held only a small percentage of construction jobs, ranging from a high of nine percent in Cincinnati to a low of one percent in Cleveland. This was true despite the fact that construction has become increasingly mechanized. The authors contend that a female share of 25 percent would be an appropriate level of participation.

"With ARRA, we have an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that women and minorities receive a fair chance at this opportunity to earn a decent wage," said Laura Barrett of the Gamaliel Foundation and the Transportation Equity Network. "A signficant percent of the construction jobs funded by ARRA must be reserved to those who need them most. Also, we have a chance to protect the original 'green job,' driving buses and trains, from being cut in city after city. We must ensure that these 'green' and union jobs do not disappear while the need for mass transit is greater than ever."

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1 comment:

  1. November 9, 2009


    Transit plans must be joined together

    Detroit's efforts to build a proposed light rail line on Woodward, from the New Center to just south of 8 Mile, have hit another speed bump with the potential loss of federal matching funds. It's time the city of Detroit merged that transit project with an already approved Regional Transportation Plan to build light rail on Woodward all the way to 11 Mile. To meet the transit needs of city and suburban residents and employers, and build political support for a regional transit tax, southeast Michigan leaders must get light rail running between Detroit and Oakland County as quickly as possible.

    Local investors plan to privately finance the building of a light rail system -- the so-called M1-RAIL project -- along 3.4 miles of Woodward, from Hart Plaza to the New Center. The city of Detroit seeks to extend the line, but only to just south of 8 Mile. The plan was to use the $120 million in private money for M1 as the local match for federal funds to build the extended line. But U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., opposes the plan, arguing that the private M1 proposal circumvents federal labor, disadvantaged business and environmental requirements attached to most new-start projects.

    Oberstar raises some legitimate issues. Money -- even private money -- used to leverage federal funds should be accountable to federal standards. If he prevails, the cash-strapped city of Detroit would need to come up with local matching funds for the $350-million extension, a near-impossibility, or delay the project for a year or more while M1 goes through the normal federal approval process. The M1 project was scheduled to start construction next spring.

    Moreover, even if Oberstar fails to block the measure, the Detroit project would remain a long shot and would not include service into southern Oakland County. Planning Woodward Avenue rail service to 11 Mile, or even 13 Mile, in the second phase would help metro Detroit leaders get a regional tax approved to support a new system -- including, potentially, local matching funds for the light rail extension on Woodward.

    Moving forward, the planning for such transit projects should be done by the emerging Regional Transit Authority, with representatives from the city of Detroit and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties. Competing light-rail proposals along Woodward will only hurt the region's chances for success. As southeast Michigan vies with other regions for scarce federal transit dollars, it must speak with one voice -- or watch its federal tax dollars continue to go to urban areas that have their acts together.