HOUGHTON - The Michigan Department of Transportation sought input from Copper Country residents on the latest update to its transportation plan at a forum Wednesday night.
MDOT is required to maintain a 20-year planning horizon, and updates the plan on a five-year cycle. Survey responses from the public stressed being proactive and the need for supporting multiple modes of transportation, fiscal responsibility and ensuring "that rural areas are not forgotten."
"That's important to us up here in the U.P., especially people with disabilities and seniors," said Vince Bevins, transportation planner for MDOT Superior Region.
The focuses, though developed before Gov. Rick Snyder was elected, fall in line with his vision for transportation, Bevins said.
The top priority among stakeholder groups was to maintain and preserve the existing transportation system, Bevins said. Other goals included improving rural and urban public transit and developing intercity rail transit.
The state's population is forecast to become larger and older between now and 2035. The state is also making progress on safety improvements; statewide fatalities and serious injuries have run below the state's goal over the past three years.
Other new initiatives include the Michigan Rail Plan, Airport System Plan, Access Management Study, Context Sensitive Solutions and Complete Streets Policy.
"The long range plan is more than just an extension of the 20-year plan," Bevins said. "It really provides the foundation for MDOT programs and projects to take shape in the future."
The plan is hoped to be approved in September. Bevins said summits in the spring will include more specific information on upcoming projects.
In a question-and-answer session, discussion focused on the state of rail in the area. Glen Tolksdorf asked about the pulling up of rail in Ontonagon County.
Joe Erickson, village of Ontonagon manager, said he had heard it was easier to get federal money for building track than maintaining it.
"There are federal dollars to put tracks down," he said.
Bevins said he had also heard the maintenance costs were a driving factor.
Andy Sikkema, Ishpeming TSC service manager, said the budget for upcoming years has been reduced.
There could be an even bigger impact if the state is unable to match federal aid dollars, which are the primary funds for resurfacing and reconstruction projects.
To see a draft of the plan, go to michigan.gov/slrp.