Monday, June 25, 2012

Tuesday Is Your Chance To Talk SEWRPC And Social Justice To Federal Monitors

Officials from the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration will be in Milwaukee to hear from you as part of the agencies' performance review for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC), on Tuesday from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Tommy Thompson Youth Center at the WI State Fairgrounds.

I posted some information about this a few days ago, but below you will find a little history and a few more points that citizens can make to help highlight how SEWRPC's record on environmental justice and fair transportation funding in the region can be improved.

Every four years, the federal government has to certify that a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) like SEWRPC is following federal laws, including civil rights and environmental justice requirements. As the MPO for seven counties in Southeastern Wisconsin, SEWRPC makes recommendations about transportation, land use and natural resource issues, and sets priorities for federal funding of projects. 

For example, SEWRPC wrote and recommended the $6.4 billion regional freeway reconstruction and widening plan: several billion dollars has been spent or committed, while transit in the region is shrinking. 

And SEWRPC's regional water supply recommendations dove-tailed with the City of Waukesha's proposal to divert Lake Michigan water - - Waukesha's water utility general manager and principal architect of the diversion plan was a forceful member of the SEWRPC advisory committee that drafted the regional SEWRPC plan as adopted.

SEWRPC, however, often has failed to address concerns of minority and low-income residents; these every-four-year federal re-certification review meetings and the status-quo affirming reports they produce have left activists feeling short-changed.

After SEWRPC got lambasted repeatedly at its 2004 re-certification hearing, the 2008 re-certification public session was intentionally anesthetized into a more tepid 'open house format - - but citizens who wanted their comments heard by the entire assemblage and not just a stenographer in cubby holes forced the organizers as the meeting began to open up the meeting process.

The 2008 report was delayed a year, yet produced no significant social justice policy or program initiatives.

So activists again need to come out Tuesday and tell these federal officials, with the SEWRPC staff sitting in, that SEWRPC has to work harder to make sure under-served and urban communities get a fair share of our region’s transportation public-dollar spending: 

We need more transit, more job access, more access to affordable housing. 
Key Points
*  SEWRPC Should Use More Federal “Highway” Funds to Expand Transit: 

One important provision in federal transportation legislation allows for the use of certain federal-aid highway program and federal transit program funds for either highway OR transit projects.  This is referred to as flexible funding… In urbanized areas with populations greater than 200,000, MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organization, like SEWRPC) are responsible for considering ‘flexing’ funds to meet local planning priorities.

SEWRPC should “flex” the funds to expand transit and meet environmental justice needs in Southeastern WI.

*  SEWRPC Should Set Priorities for County & Local Road Projects that Emphasize Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Criteria:  

SEWRPC is responsible for creating our region’s TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan).  Through the TIP, road and highway projects in the seven county region are prioritized for federal funding.  Many MPO’s around the country consider environmental justice criteria in their TIP priorities, but SEWRPC does not. Factors that could be considered include:  1) Does the community that the road project is in provide transit for low wage workers to access jobs in that community? 2)  Does the community have a job/housing imbalance as defined by the SEWRPC Housing Study? 3) Is the project to build new roads or to repair existing roads?  

SEWRPC should include these kinds of criteria in deciding which local and county road projects have highest priority.
SEWRPC’s Lack of City of Milwaukee Presence: 

At SEWRPC’s 2008 re-certification, recommendations were made that SEWRPC develop a greater City of Milwaukee presence, with office space here. This recommendation was made to better engage low-income, minority and persons with disabilities into SEWRPC’s planning decisions and policy recommendations.

It appears no effort has been made towards this.  We should continue to push for this change.
SEWRPC’s Governance:

SEWRPC is run by an appointed Commission of three representatives from each of the seven counties in SEWRPC’s region, and two-thirds of the appointments are made by the Governor.

This sets the tone for ALL of SEWRPC’s planning and policies.  For example, Ozaukee County has 10% of the population of Milwaukee County, but the same number of votes on the commission.  

Milwaukee County has about ¾ of the region’s low income and minority residents and 85% of the region’s African-Americans, but only 14% percent of votes on the commission.  This represents a SERIOUS environmental justice issue for SEWRPC and our region.

Until this issue is resolved, SEWRPC will not be able to truly represent the need of our region

NOTE: it is important to recognize that this governance structure is determined by state statute and only a change in state legislation will fix it. 

An issue I've covered for years.

(Written comments also can be submitted until 7/16/12 to:

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