A comprehensive and well-planned transportation system benefits local commuters and increases the efficiency and possibility of regional transportation. In recent months, policymakers have worked toward a regional transit system connecting the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. In theory, this proposal could benefit all counties. However, in reality it focuses too much on rebuilding Detroit and catering transportation to commuters at the expense of other counties. While revitalizing Detroit should be a priority for the state, state senators must consider the needs of all the counties so that the proposed Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority would benefit all involved.
The Michigan legislature has been working on a bill that would create a regional transit authority in southeastern Michigan with one representative from each of the four counties involved. The new proposal does stipulate that a unanimous vote would be required for all funding or rail projects. As a result, the Ann Arbor Transit Authority would fall under the jurisdiction of the Regional Transit Authority. Other counties not included in the program could petition the authority and become a participatory member.
Theoretically, the RTA is an innovative and efficient way to promote inter-county transportation for these four areas. However, it does not address the needs of Washtenaw County. Currently, the local government has a strong transportation system. State Sen. Tom Casperson (R–Escanaba) said the “only way to make this work is it has got to be regional” and there has “to be buy-in from the whole region, not just Wayne County or Detroit.” The proposed bill would make Washtenaw County pay for transportation in the other counties without improving the local system.
By not addressing the needs of each county, the proposal might hurt certain areas. According to State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor), the new legislation would prevent Washtenaw County from repairing existing tracks and projects, which may hinder future transportation endeavors. Irwin added that the new authority could take away funds from Ann Arbor’s current transportation system as well as others.
Furthermore, the bill privileges bus transportation over other types of transportation, such as railways. By only focusing on buses, Michigan would limit the possibility of future expansion and would fail to create county-specific transportation solutions. For example, cities like Seattle have developed a multi-faceted approach to transportation, which includes buses, rail projects and ferries. While there have been debates about the effectiveness of the plans, Seattle has allowed itself to expand its infrastructure. Michigan should aim for a similar system. By requiring unanimous votes for funding and rail projects, the Michigan legislature would severely limit the scope and potential of this proposal.
A new regional transit authority, in principle, could bring benefits to all counties involved. Nevertheless, the current plan must be revised. At this juncture, Washtenaw County stands to gain very little from this proposal.