Regional Transit Authority CEO still hopeful after proposal to connect southeast Michigan fails

Monday, November 14, 2016 - 5:24pm

Along with unexpected national election results on Nov. 8, there was also the local failure of a proposal to raise $2.9 billion from taxpayers over the next 20 years to oversee development of a regional transportation system in southeast Michigan.

Citizens in Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties voted on the proposal, which would have taxed households at a rate of $1.20 for every $1,000 of taxable value of a home. It was defeated 912,033 to 893,798, a margin of 18,235 votes.

For Washtenaw County, the plan included a proposal for a commuter rail line that would have made eight round trips per day between Detroit and Ann Arbor, as well as express bus service to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, according to the master plan on the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan’s website.

RTA Chair Paul Hillegonds and RTA CEO Michael Ford issued a statement expressing disappointment and concern for residents who would have benefited from the proposal after it failed to pass.

“It leaves southeast Michigan as the only large region in the nation (and one of a few in the world) without a functioning regional rapid transit system,” the statement read. “That means residents still will lack a convenient transit connection to jobs, communities will remain unconnected to one another, economic development will be more difficult and seniors and people with disabilities will lack the greater independence a fully functional transit system would provide.”

The RTA was created in 2012 after Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature approved the measure to boost economic prosperity in Detroit. In 2015, the agency announced its intention to create a master plan for a vote on the November 2016 ballot. After the failed vote, however, the specific steps the RTA will take now are unclear.

“When the Legislature and Governor created the Regional Transit Authority in 2012 we were given the charge of planning for and coordinating public transportation in the four-county Southeast Michigan region, including developing a plan for rapid transit,” Hillegonds and Ford wrote in the statement. “We will be sitting down with our board in the near future to determine our next steps in fulfilling that task.”

In an interview, Ford said he is disappointed in the failure of the proposal, but is also exploring why the plan failed in the hope that similar initiatives can succeed in the future.

“The notion is we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we forge ahead, and that’s what we’re focused on right now,” Ford said. “We have to take a total inventory at this point; talk to our community leaders, our business leaders, our philanthropic leaders, educational institutions, elected officials — there’s a lot of outreach and engagement that we have to continue to do to try to forge ahead.”

The plan passed 93,994 votes to 73,270 votes in Washtenaw County, Ford said it will be important to go back to a county like Macomb, where the plan was rejected 222,806 votes to 148,159 votes, to find out how they can gain support.

“I think you have to go back and talk to people, find out why they weren’t as supportive,” Ford said. “Find out what we can do differently to gain their support.”

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) said in a phone interview with the Daily [COPY: Michigan Daily on first reference?] he was disappointed with the results of the vote and pointed out that Detroit is among the only major metropolitan areas in America without a regional transit system. However, Taylor also said he is looking forward to working on any future steps necessary to develop a regional transit system.

“I’m disappointed that the RTA millage did not pass, Southeast Michigan is the only major metropolitan I’m aware of that does not have regional transit,” Taylor said. “Regional transit is necessary in order to integrate our region and improve quality of life, I’m looking forward to the step and I hope we can do what is necessary to move forward with regional transit.”