Bankole: Latest transit plan deserves fair hearing

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Say what you want about Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. But at least he has shown a steady commitment toward the realization of a regional mass transit system by releasing a bold and comprehensive plan.

Last week before the board of the Regional Transit Authority, Evans proposed a tax across all four counties — Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw — that would result in $170 million per year to service bus operations as well as routes to Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport.

According to the Evans plan, the region’s voters will have to raise $5.4 billion over the next two decades through a proposed 1.5-mill transit tax that would make transportation services easier and efficient.

Evans wants voters to decide on this proposal in November.

But there’s a lot of time between now and November. A lot of things could happen that may potentially sabotage the plan. Anything can happen that could derail this effort and take us back to square one of the transit debate.

But given the expected positive economic impact an expansive transit system could have on southeast Michigan, such an ambitious and costly plan deserves a fair hearing before the RTA board as well as review from critics of all sides of the debate.

It shouldn’t be shut down or discarded without thorough vetting. Since it would require shared sacrifice — all four counties meeting the financial obligations of the project — the people of this region deserve to have a say regarding this plan not just the leaders of the region.

Additionally, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who has been a chief opponent to the idea of a county-wide tax for regional transit, should carefully examine the new plan in the interest of all Oakland County residents and offer a realistic alternative, if he disagrees.

But unfortunately Patterson has already worked against this latest proposition to keep the dream of regional transportation alive. He thinks it is too costly and worse than the previous proposal that was on the table before.

Patterson rightfully may have merits for standing his ground on this issue and refusing to budge from his anti-regional transit policy.

But it is not enough to just say no. Bashing Evans’ plan without providing an equally all-inclusive blueprint that is fundable isn’t helpful to the overall push for a crucial project of this magnitude that would enhance the region.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who has also been a critic of similar proposals in the past, should present an alternative if he believes what Evans has put forward is unworkable.

For this region’s economy to significantly grow and to attract major investments, there has to be strategic and targeted public investment in the form of a transit system that will benefit the residents of all the participating counties. Connecting communities and granting easy mobility to regional employment opportunities is one of the biggest incentives for the kind of transportation infrastructure Evans has proposed.

Let’s face it. If we want this region to advance, there should be no issue helping connect urban residents to job opportunities in the suburbs and vice versa. And the most effective and efficient way to do so is through a transportation system that provides mobility for families to achieve economic independence.

Let’s debate the plan. But keep in mind that this is about the quality of life of everyone who calls this region home.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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