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Detroit — The Regional Transit Authority board hired a consultant Thursday to help the agency draft a new master plan for the region and a strategy to convince voters to approve a ballot initiative in 2016 to fund the RTA and bus rapid transit projects in the region.

HNTB, a national firm that specializes in rail and transit issues and has offices in Detroit and Okemos, was awarded the $1.78 million contract.

Paul Hillegonds, chairman of the RTA board, said the regional plan will take a 20-year view and a shorter five-year look with emphasis on the 2016 ballot initiative that will include bus rapid transit projects slated for Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues funded by a tax increase or vehicle fees. The firm won over authority officials with a focus on community outreach, he said.

“We really need both if we’re going to go to voters for support of first-stage bus rapid transit,” Hillegonds said. “We need to have more specifics in a master plan. But we also need to excite the imagination of the citizens of the region about what this first step could lead to. And that’s why the 20-year view is so important.”

Michael Ford, CEO of the RTA, said he recommended HNTB because of its experience in other cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Washington and could best “help move and direct our attention on what we need to get done.”

Ford said he needs the regional plan to be done by this time next year because the RTA will be attempting to sell the public on its mission and other projects in the fall 2016 ballot measure.

“They recognize the challenge ahead,” Ford said. “They weren’t mincing words about what we have before us.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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