RTA moves against opt-out legislation

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan board voted Thursday to show opposition against a measure in the Legislature that would allow communities to opt-out of the authority’s oversight.

The RTA moved against the legislation in a symbolic 7-2 vote, citing the need to include all communities impacted by the RTA’s transit plans.

“The board voted to pass a resolution against the proposed House bill,” said Matt Webb, chief COO. “How transit is provided ... advancing an option that allows clear holes in the system is not feasible.”

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, the state legislation would allow city, village or township officials to withdraw from the authority by approving a resolution. The authority, created by state law in 2012 to coordinate transportation services, includes Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Opponents of the measure, including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, argued the ability to opt-out of regional mass transit would undermine the transit authority’s ability to adequately take residents back and forth to jobs and other destinations.

Some lawmakers and other Metro Detroit officials, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, don’t want their residents to have to pay for services they would rarely use. They believe the opt-out option addresses that concern.

Yaroch said Thursday that he wants to continue work with the RTA’s board despite its opposition to his opt-out legislation. The House Tax Policy Committee has held two hearings on the bill but not yet taken a vote.

“The real question is whether residents in my district, some of whom are 15 miles from the closest bus route, are actually really part of the region,” Yaroch said.

Macomb County communities already pay a millage for the SMART bus system, but far north municipalities such as Memphis, Richmond and Armada would not be near any newly proposed RTA bus routes, he said.

“I’m not anti-transit,” Yaroch said. “There’s a role in improving our transit system in our high-density core of southeast Michigan for many reasons, but northern Macomb County is not high density. And that this point, we have a road (quality) issue which probably should be the first priority.”

But RTA board chairman Paul Hillegonds noted it might be awhile before action is taken in Lansing.

“I don’t expect any action on the bill, if at all, before the fall,” he said during Thursday’s meeting.

Meanwhile, the last of the six community meetings seeking public input on efforts to promote a new regional mass transit plan was held May 3.

There were 286 residents at the meetings, and Webb said he was pleased with that number.

“That is only one of the mediums,” he said. When you look at the full picture, it is in the thousands in terms of correspondence we’ve received since April 25th.

“... They have until June 3rd to submit comments, and we continue to meet with locally elected officials and chambers of commerce.”

The region’s transit authority is seeking public input for their effort to promote a new regional mass transit plan.

Board members are looking for comments on the proposed Connect Southeast Michigan Plan, a project floated by Evans. It’s designed to replace a smaller regional mass transit plan that voters narrowly rejected on the 2016 ballot.

The board has not yet decided whether to present Evans’ plan to voters this fall.

His 20-year, $5.4 billion proposal calls for new rapid transit bus service along 15 high-frequency corridors, express routes and the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line. It would also provide “hometown service” funding for communities like Addison or Independence Township that won’t be covered by the new bus routes.

Evans’ plan calls for a 1.5-mill tax to provide $170 million a year in operating funding while investing $696 million for infrastructure. The tax would cost owners of the average house worth $157,504 in the region $118 a year.

Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.


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