Detroit — When it comes to regional transit, sooner rather than later is essential to attracting companies and providing travel options, Wayne County’s executive said Wednesday.
Amazon passing over Metro Detroit this month in the company’s national search for a site for its second headquarters “is a serious case study” in highlighting why regional partners must move quickly to create a transit proposal similar to the ballot initiative voters rejected in November 2016, Warren Evans said.
“If you don’t do anything about it, we’re always going to come up short,” he told a crowd at an annual meeting of Transportation Riders United, a public transportation advocacy group. “I don’t think blaming anybody gets us anywhere. But I think we learned something from 2016 ... Hurry up and get it done in 2018!”
Evans’ remarks come as he, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel have been discussing what a master plan should look like after the narrow defeat of the ballot measure. The goal is to resurrect it in a new form in time for November’s ballot.
But it’s not clear there is a sure path. Hackel has made clear that a reworked transit master plan is not his top priority. It’s all about “fixing the roads.”
“Everywhere I go in this county what I hear is ‘fix the roads’ from the residents,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “We’ve got 1,700 miles of roads the county is responsible for, and 1,100 miles of those roads are in poor condition, 600 miles are in fair condition, so there is no question that the biggest issue is coming up with funding to fix the roads.
If there were two competing millages — one for roads in Macomb County and one for whatever this plan is, and voters had to pick one or the other, 1 mill for regional transit and 1 mill for Macomb County roads, there’s no question that road funding would win.”
Macomb County voters overwhelmingly defeated the 2016 ballot initiative.
“Everybody keeps asking about the master plan. What is the master plan?” Hackel said. “How can I support something that doesn’t even exist? I’m sure we’ll continue to have conversations about what will be the best options. But our needs are fixing the roads.”
Patterson’s spokesman Bill Mullan said Patterson has said “there is no master plan.”
Not yet. But Duggan remains hopeful.
Dave Massaron, city’s chief operating officer and the mayor’s point person on regional transit, said, “The mayor regularly talks with regional leaders on transit and continues to believe that a deal is possible.”
Jim Martinez, director of communications for Wayne County, said Evans “is in regular contact with the other regional leaders.”
“Our priority is to get a comprehensive regional system that helps Metro Detroit compete for economic opportunities, investment and talent, and improves quality of life,” he said. “We’re optimistic we can get consensus around a plan that would appear on the November ballot, but we’re not wearing rose-colored glasses. There’s work to do.”
At the meeting Wednesday at TechTown Detroit, Evans said expanding transit “will never be a consensus issue” but showcasing the benefits of a regional transit system for voters can be a winning strategy. .
“We win if we get enthusiastic,” Evans said. “If we all advocate ... it passes and we move to the next level.”
Paul Hillegonds, Regional Transit Authority board chair, agreed.
“It is going to take time to work with our communities and the residents to explain how this will add value to people’s lives,” he said. “It’s going to take the all-out support of our regional leaders.”
Meanwhile, Transportation Riders United is working behind the scenes to push a November ballot initiative.
Its biggest effort is a public education program, Let’s Talk Transit, said Megan Owens, the group's executive director .
“Since this region hasn’t had a robust transit system in more than two generations, most people have no real experience with or understanding of transit,” she said. “So we’re making presentations to and engaging in dialogue with community groups, Rotary clubs, neighborhood associations, and other groups to help bust myths about transit, to help people who don’t ride understand how they still benefit, and to garner their input on how the next transit plan could best benefit their community.”