Pray for the bus

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More than 300 people gathered at a Ferndale church last week to pray for increased public transportation between Detroit and the suburbs.

Judging from past efforts at merging the city and suburban bus systems in metro Detroit, they just might need divine intervention.

Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength (MOSES) also announced a three-point plan and sought support from public officials and business leaders who attended the meeting at St. James Catholic Church.

"We are calling tonight for a major increase in the funding for public transportation from the $145 million that it is now to $220 million, which is what the transportation systems in this state need as an absolute minimum to operate," said Victoria Kovari, a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Detroit and chairperson of MOSES’ transportation committee.

Kovari drew applause from the racially and geographically diverse crowd that attended Thursday’s meeting. "If the politicians can’t do it, we the people have to do it," she said.

MOSES is a coalition of 53 southeast Michigan churches seeking to fight sprawl and revitalize metro Detroit’s urban center. Among those at the meeting were state Sen. Burton Leland, of Detroit, the ranking Democrat on the Senate transportation committee; the directors of the Detroit Department of Transportation and the suburban bus system, SMART; suburban mayors; and a General Motors representative.

The lack of coordination between the Detroit system and SMART is commonly blamed on politics, along with economic and racial tensions between the city and its suburbs. According to Sister Cheryl Liske, of Our Lady Gate of Heaven Catholic Church in Detroit, MOSES’ diverse membership, including the affluent First Baptist Church of Birmingham, helps give the coalition clout.

Beyond increased funding, the other two points of MOSES’ plan are a regional transportation summit to be held in the fall to advance a coordinated regional plan and the creation of a citizens’ review committee to examine the environmental and economic impacts of any proposed new or expanded roads. Kovari says Vice President Al Gore has agreed to ask U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater to attend the fall summit.

MOSES also took its three-point plan to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), whose board determines which southeast Michigan road projects receive federal funds. Kovari said that although SEMCOG’s executive board appeared to agree generally with increased mass transit funding and the fall summit, some board members object to the citizens’ review committee.

SEMCOG board member Kay Schmid, also an Oakland County Commissioner, says the board already reviews the environmental impact of road projects, and that MOSES is "a special interest group — a certain group of people wanting to do what we do already."

However, Kovari says SEMCOG commonly "rubber-stamps" whatever projects county road commissions recommend.

"The executive committee includes people who represent fast-growing communities, and they don’t want to see anything impede growth," she says.

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