Vote ‘yes’ on the RTA proposal

William Milliken

On Nov. 8, the people of Southeast Michigan have an opportunity to correct a historic mistake in our state’s history.

On the general election ballot in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties will be a proposal to fund the creation of regional rapid transit system for all of Southeast Michigan.

It is a proposal that, if approved, would create new opportunities for connecting people with jobs.

It would provide enormous economic benefits to the region and the state.

It would provide citizens with disabilities more independence and mobility.

It would provide our growing senior citizen population with the opportunities to continue to live productive lives, since seniors outlive their driving careers by seven to 10 years.

And, perhaps above all, it would permit Southeast Michigan to compete with other regions throughout the country and the world.

In a Special Message to the Legislature on Transportation in January of 1972, I said, “The Transportation center of the nation — Michigan — is woefully negligent in meeting present and projected mass transportation needs. We will soon have the dubious distinction of having the largest city in the nation — Detroit — without a rapid transit system.”

Unfortunately, that warning of 44 years ago came true. Southeast Michigan remains the only large region in the nation without a functioning regional rapid transit system.

Try as I might, I could not get the state legislature of the time to pass legislation to create a Regional Transportation Authority and place the question of funding it before the voters. Had the legislature passed the bill, I am convinced that Southeast Michigan would be far better off both economically and socially than it is today.

The Michigan Legislature in 2012 passed legislation very similar to the proposal I had made in 1972. The bill had the support of both Republicans and Democrats. The new law created a Regional Transportation Authority for southeast Michigan composed of representatives of each of the four Southeast Michigan Counties and the city of Detroit and charged the body with developing a plan for providing rapid transit throughout the region.

That body completed its work developing a plan earlier this year. The proposal on the ballot is the result of their civic and historic efforts. The proposal they developed would create a rapid, reliable, regional transit system that puts the region on a competitive footing with other regions around the country. It has the support of business, of labor and of young and old alike.

If adopted by the people of Southeast Michigan in November, the creation of a regional rapid transit system will change both Southeast Michigan and the state for the better for decades to come.

Its adoption will mean that our state will be able to compete for the talent and the jobs of the 21st century; that businesses will be able to hire and workers will have the ability to get to work.

It will mean that Michigan’s most populous region has finally taken a major step to compete with the other populous regions of the world.

I closed that Special Message to the Legislature in 1972 with these words, “In a very real sense, the wheels of progress in all aspects of Michigan life will turn only as fast as the wheels of transportation.”

That statement is as true now as it was then. I urge voters in Southeast Michigan to vote “yes” on the RTA proposal in November.

William Milliken was the 44th governor of Michigan.