Regional agency asks public what it wants from transit

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The Regional Transit Authority will make its first push Tuesday to ask the public what it wants from transit and use the information to help sell a tax increase in 2016 to fund projects in Metro Detroit.

The effort is part of the RTA's development of a regional master plan for the Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. The plan will also promote the proposed bus rapid transit project slated for Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues.

RTA officials, who will announce at a Tuesday noon news conference a series of public meetings starting next Monday in Washtenaw County and held in all four counties next week, want the master plan to be done by year's end.

Michael Ford, the executive director of the RTA, said the master plan helps gets input from the public to shape how transit will look for decades to come.

"We need to make sure that the plan is realistic and that it's going to meet people's needs today and well into the future," Ford said. "So the call really is getting people aware and involved — friends, relatives, loved ones. We need everybody to give us input to making this system better, for better integration, going wherever you want to go."

Other meetings will take place during the next two or three months, officials say. The key questions include the region's transit needs, what the public is willing to pay and how will it help the region's economy.

The rapid transit project on Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to Pontiac is undergoing an environmental study, and the Michigan and Gratiot routes are being studied for specific alternatives by the spring of 2016.

Ford says the improved transit is "beneficial to those that don't use the system" because it frees up parking and reduces road congestion.

"I don't want to talk people to death, but it's really about them and what they want the choices to be," Ford said. "And I'm real confident that with a clear plan that address the needs today and going forward, I think people will support that."

Megan Owens, executive director of transit-advocacy group Transportation Riders United, said she believes the public will benefit from participating in the public meetings.

"To me, this is really an exiciting opportunity to decide what we want transit to be in this community," Owens said. "We've got a long history of complaining that we've got no transit, ... but now is the chance to say: What do we want? There are a lot of great ideas out there."

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