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Wayne Co. exec pushes new regional transit plan

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — A proposal for regional transit that will boost bus rapid transit service across four Metro Detroit counties is expected to be announced this week, Wayne County’s executive said Tuesday.

Warren Evans revealed few details about the plan during his State of the County address but said the region needed to pull its existing bus systems together “under one banner working in full cooperation.”

“In our current system, there are too many inefficiencies between DDOT (Detroit Department of Transportation), SMART and local transit providers,” Evans said. “Our people in DDOT and SMART work hard and provide a great service, but we’ve built this like a patchwork quilt that is horribly inefficient and more expensive than it has to be.”

His announcement marks another bid by some regional leaders to push proposals to improve transit. His remarks follow discussions at the Detroit Economic Club’s annual “Big Four” luncheon at the auto show in January and last week by Mayor Mike Duggan and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, who touted transit options as key to revitalizing the region.

Evans said the new four-county plan “incorporates the lessons learned from 2016.”

In November 2016, a $4.6 billion Regional Transit Authority millage failed 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent. Washtenaw and Wayne counties favored the millage, Oakland County voters were split and Macomb County rejected it.

Evans said he plans to present the plan Thursday during the Regional Transit Authority board meeting.

“I believe that there is enough support for transit in the region to pass the right plan,” Evans said at the Detroit Film Theater in the Detroit Institute of Arts on Tuesday evening. “If they vote it down, they vote it down. But I do think voters deserve a chance to let their voices be heard.”

Regional transit has come to the forefront since Metro Detroit leaders began meeting to discuss putting another millage on the November ballot.

While Evans and Duggan agree that the region needs a mass transit system to thrive, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel say they are not sold on the idea of a millage.

The lack of regional transit was a “deal breaker” for Amazon, which recently passed up Detroit for the location of the company’s second regional headquarters, Evans said.

In addition to transit, Evans said he is focused on rebuilding facilities and infrastructure and keeping talent in Wayne County.

The emphasis on those issues comes after three years of being largely focused on financial stability and a plan for the unfinished county jail site in Greektown, Evans said.

The county executive discussed the recently announced jail deal with Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures to build a proposed $533 million criminal justice center in an area east of Midtown, near Interstate 75 and Warren Avenue.

Gilbert would receive the unfinished jail site in a separate transaction, demolish it and build mixed-use development, officials say.

“While it has taken longer than I wanted to negotiate, this deal is very good for Wayne County,” Evans said.

To help keep talent, Evans said he negotiated a pay increase for snow plow drivers, increased the starting wage of deputies and awarded them a 5 percent pay increase each of the last two years.

Evans said he also has retooled the county’s focus on economic development. He touted the Detroit Region Aerotropolis, which has helped major companies build facilities in the county, including Amazon and Penske Logistics.

The county executive also praised the Wayne County Land Bank for creating a program last year to obtain foreclosed properties before they went to auction.

“The goal was to stop speculators from purchasing properties and letting them sit undeveloped for years,” Evans said. “The Land Bank took 141 properties and sold them to developers and nonprofits with purchase agreements to hold the purchaser accountable. Such terms could not be included if these properties were sold at auction.”

Other issues Evans discussed included investing in fixing the county’s roads and bridges, improving the county’s parks system and promoting Wayne United, which looks to embrace diversity in the county.

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