DJC Partner, Bridge Magazine | SE Michigan voters could see new mass transit plan on ballot in November

Last Updated by Michael Sellers on

March 20, 2018
By Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Bridge Magazine

After months of negotiations, a new $5 billion mass transit plan was proposed Thursday for southeast Michigan that seeks to address the concerns that killed the regional transportation initiative two years ago.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans had planned to lay out the proposal –  which could go to voters this fall – at a meeting Thursday afternoon of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.

The proposal would make several major changes to the plan that voters rejected in 2016. The new plan:

  • Provides a commuter train between Detroit and Ann Arbor
  • Provides $50 million per year for a program called Hometown Service to 60 communities that do not have regularly scheduled bus routes. The money can be spent locally on “creative mobility solutions” such as ridesharing or campus connectors - or rolled over for the county to spend
  • Adds 11 new highway-based express bus routes with park and ride lots; and adds one airport-bound route from each county
  • Adds 15 regional bus routes that run every 15 minutes during rush hour, including 10 routes that run cross-county 20-hours per day and three that offer 24 hours service
  • Provides 105 percent return on each county’s investment, compared to 85 percent in the prior plan.

It doesn’t come without a cost, though. The plan would charge homeowners 1.5 mills per year. That’s more than the 1.2 mill per year plan for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb that voters narrowly defeated in 2016.

The plan would cost owners of $200,000 homes another $150 a year.

“This plan is designed to serve riders where they are and where they need to go on a daily basis,” Evans said. “It will expand economic opportunities for countless local residents who struggle to get to work, school, or even the doctor’s office. It will also take cars off the road, which will ease congestion, reduce emissions and increase productivity. It brings value to all four counties and is flexible enough to grow with mobility technology so we can adapt it moving forward.”

Unlike the other, failed plan, the new proposal would eliminate plans for four bus rapid transit routes, which would have required widening streets for bus lanes. The new plan also allows the counties to be eligible for more guaranteed federal and state grant funding as opposed to discretionary grant funds that are not guaranteed.

“A voter-approved tax of 1.5 mill in 2018 will raise $5.4 billion over 20 years and leverage an additional $1.3 billion in farebox, state and federal revenues,” the plan states.

For months, the leaders from Detroit, Wayne, Washtenaw, Macomb and Oakland have met to discuss changes to the RTA plan and had promised to make a public announcement by April.  

Related: As mass transit talks slow, will Wayne, Washtenaw counties go it alone?

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel had expressed the most reluctance to support a new transit ballot measure.

Some Oakland residents wanted to be able to opt out of the plan due to concerns that they would be paying for transit they wouldn’t use while Macomb officials worried they needed to prioritize road improvement millages over transit.

This new plan could be the last best effort to try to get a four-county transit measure on the ballot in Southeast Michigan in November. RTA board chairman Paul Hillegonds told Bridge that time is running out to approve a ballot measure and leave enough time for a campaign to explain it to the public.

To get this proposal on the ballot, the RTA would have to hold a public hearing and the board would have to vote to approve it.

The wording for a November ballot question must be submitted by August.

Megan Owens, executive director for Transportation Riders United advocacy group, said the new plan is more equitable because it provides more communities with funding while still creating more regional transportation options.

“I do think that this plan addresses most of the complaints and concerns of the last plan,” Owens said.

“It makes it really clear that rural communities will get direct dollars to invest in their transit needs.”

Westland Mayor Bill Wild, who is also a Democratic candidate for the 13th Congressional District vacated by Rep. John Conyers Jr., applauded the plan.

"Regional transit is not just about buses, it is about moving this region forward and putting people back to work," Wild said in a statement. "Sometimes leadership means you put your best plan together and just get out of the way to let the voters decide."

One Detroit - Four million people. One story.

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