Amid the controversy over right-to-work legislation during Thursday’s state House of Representatives session, the proposal to create a regional transit authority passed through the House despite mainly Democratic efforts to stall the bill.
The proposal, which passed the state Senate last week, will create an organization for the integration of public transportation systems in metro Detroit. The bill passed by a 57-50 margin, with only two Democrats voting in favor of the plan.
The bill — which was formerly part of a package of bills that would have provided a means for generating revenue and purchasing property — allows for the creation of the transit agency. Though the package of bills failed to pass, it could be reintroduced at some point in the future, according to State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor).
“The actual meat and potatoes of the RTA were not accomplished,” Irwin said. “Now we’ve empowered a group of people from across the region to get together and talk about public transit, but we haven’t empowered them actually do anything about public transit.”
Irwin said his main concern with the proposal is its ramifications for Washtenaw County. Due to how the system is currently set up — adhering to protocol established by the Regional Transit Coordinating Council, the organization that handles regional transit — all funding decisions require a unanimous vote. According to Irwin, this is the main reason the system doesn’t work.
The new RTA would require a unanimous vote for rail projects, which Irwin said would continue to disadvantage Washtenaw County.
“Where we are geographically, rail is the most appropriate, lowest-cost way to service our community,” Irwin said.
He added that Washtenaw County is working to develop its existing tracks, but the new legislation could potentially hinder that process.
“Unfortunately, the legislation that Lansing has passed won’t allow us to develop those kinds of things,” Irwin said.
Irwin added that the new organization could siphon funds from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ann Arbor’s current public transportation system.
“The RTA was really designed for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb — not for Washtenaw,” Irwin said.
State Sen. Tom Casperson (R–Escanaba), one of the sponsors of the bill in the Senate, said the RTA is necessary in order to mend a deeply flawed system of public transportation in southeastern Michigan.
“If Detroit is going to be successful and come back and grow, I don’t know how you do it without that component,” Casperson said.
He also said approval of the legislation will affect the millions of dollars of funding for a metro Detroit light-rail line.
“The only way to make this work is it has got to be regional,” Casperson said. “There’s got to be buy-in from the whole region, not just Wayne County or Detroit. That’s been kind of the struggle all the way through this thing.”
The article was updated at around 12:10 p.m. to correct the headline.