Regional transit tax pushed for November ballot

Nicquel Terry, and Christine Ferretti

Detroit — Metro Detroit leaders are working to put a regional transportation millage on November’s ballot just two years after voters narrowly rejected a tax hike to expand mass transit in southeastern Michigan.

Regional leaders say they have been meeting to come up with a new plan and hope to make an announcement as early as this month. The group includes the “Big 4” — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. Washtenaw County also has had a representative at the meetings, according to Jim Martinez, a spokesman for Evans.

Evans has taken the lead on bringing all the counties and Detroit together to discuss the new proposal, Martinez said. He declined to release any details on the plan but said officials hoped to get a millage on the November ballot.

“We think we are making progress toward a deal all of them can get behind,” Martinez said. “We are working with the urgency that this issue requires.”

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

The proposal included plans to create bus rapid transit, a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, an airport shuttle service, a regional fare card system and other service changes. The millage would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually, RTA officials estimated.

In an interview with The Detroit News on Tuesday, Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged that he was working with other leaders on the new regional transit plan.

“It’s not going to be very long,” Duggan said when asked about the timetable for an announcement.

He declined to speak further and referred questions to Evans’ office.

Mario Morrow, a spokesman for the Regional Transit Authority, said leaders have been having “in-depth discussions on what next steps to take.” The RTA is made up of representatives of the four counties to build and support public transportation in the region.

An RTA staff person has been engaged in the discussions, Morrow said, but he said he could not provide further details.

“They are very intense; they are meaningful, and it appears they are very productive,” Morrow said.

Chuck Moss, Oakland County’s representative on the RTA, said he was glad to see leaders resuming discussions on regional transportation. However, Moss said if the new proposal has any chance of passing with Oakland County voters, it needs to benefit more of its residents.

“Fifty-two percent of Oakland County got no benefit from the plan,” Moss said. “There was no benefit for Rochester, Novi. ... If we have a plan that can deliver to more people, then you’ll get more people to vote for it.”

Hackel said conversations about what’s next have been ongoing but feels there’s “no definitive plan that has been put together.”

Macomb County’s focus has been on becoming a technology leader as the region carves out future transit plans, Hackel said. Mobility and autonomous vehicle technology has to be a “major driving force” in the discussions about where transit is headed “if we want to be a leader,” he said.

Hackel said he’s not pushing for any time constraints on a regional transit proposal. A plan, he said, will require input from the RTA’s board and the public.

“My interest is are we doing something that makes sense? Is it visionary?” he said. “My thing is let’s get it right before we jump in and say let’s just hurry up and get this thing done because someone has a timeline or a predetermined date.”

Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Patterson, confirmed that Patterson has attended transit plan meetings. Patterson, Mullan noted, remained neutral about the RTA millage in 2016.

“He certainly wants to be part of the discussion on regional transit,” Mullan said.