Regional transit officials share plans for tax

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

John Reece has heard critics lambaste the Regional Transit Authority’s property tax proposal to expand public transportation in the four-county region as a waste of money, among other things.

But Reece, 66, who abhors more taxes, sees things a little differently about this particular millage, though, that will create four bus rapid transit routes, a commuter rail, an airport shuttle and upgrade regional transit.

“This could really be something good,” said Reece, a retired carpenter who lives in Macomb Township. “Maybe not for me, but definitely for the younger people. I pay for a museum now that I don’t go to. So why can’t we pay for something that’s really needed?”

RTA officials unveiled their $4.6 billion master plan Tuesday with scores of advocates on hand to peruse extensive maps and information about the options a 1.2 mill assessment expected to be on the Nov. 8 ballot will fund.

The plan promotes better coordination, reliability and extension of services into underserved areas. The 20-year millage would fund the RTA’s master plan and would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually.

The public will have several chances in June to review the plan, which was more than a year in the making, before the RTA board is set to vote on its approval in July.

RTA officials see the millage as appealing to more voters than offending them because there’s a craving for more transit options.

“If you look at other major metropolitan cities, they have great transportation services that bring in jobs, that give people mobility and options,” said Michael Ford, the RTA’s CEO. “You pay for what you invest in. We’re behind and we need to be competitive. And for us to be competitive, there are some infrastructural things that we need to invest in.”

Public officials weighed in on the master plan, too.

“Access to effective public transit is critical to growing the city’s economy and to helping connect Detroiters with jobs and opportunities,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “I urge voters to support the the RTA Master Plan when it is on the ballot this November.”

But L. Brooks Patterson, the Oakland County executive, didn’t give as generous of an endorsement.

“If a final plan is adopted by the RTA board, it will then be up to the voters to decide if they see value in increasing public transit investment to connect our region and maximize access for the world class businesses and organizations in Oakland County,” he said.

For Reece, a tax increase to give him and others the options of coming down to Detroit for a ball game and not have to navigate driving is ideal. But he’s realistic, he said, about others not supporting the plan because they think criminals will be among the riders.

“To me, there are bad people that are already in cars coming out here,” Reece said of the suburbs. “But I don’t believe that.”

Mark Gaffney, who represents Wayne County on the RTA board, said that although he understands that some voters may be averse to more taxes, there’s “something in this plan for everyone.”

“If you are the person who wants to leave the car at home and you don’t want to be a two-car family any more, this allows you to do it,” he said. “If you are the person that doesn’t have a car and you need this to get to work, there you go. If you’re the person who has a car and likes the commute, what this will do for you is there will be less cars on the road. There will be more parking spaces downtown. It just gives people a whole lot more options.”

That’s something Cecelia Roberts, 77, of Royal Oak wants to see.

“We need a good transit system,” said Roberts, who attended Tuesday’s RTA announcement. “I don’t mind paying more taxes for a transit system because we really need it. There are a lot of younger aged people ... they don’t have the transit system that they need. A few dollars a year won’t make that much difference.”

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