The Oakland County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, Sept. 22 passed a resolution in support of a new Regional Transit Authority (RTA).
The resolution calls for the Michigan Legislature and governor to enact legislation that establishes an effective RTA for southeast Michigan. The resolution further calls for legislation that supports an RTA and regional transit system by establishing state and local funding mechanisms adopted by a vote of the people.
Oakland County Commissioner Bill Dwyer (R-Farmington) introduced the resolution that passed in an 18-6 vote.
Dwyer said adoption of the resolution proves his county board colleagues are visionaries who understand that addressing transportation needs will bolster the region’s economy.
“This vote demonstrates that Oakland County recognizes the importance of regional issues and transportation is one of those issues,” he said.
However, it must be up to taxpayers to decide if they want to fund such a venture.
There have been attempts in the past to establish an RTA without much success.
“It’s important that we deal with regional matters in such a manner that creates equal funding and equal benefit for equal outcome,” Dwyer said.
Oakland County Commissioner Bob Hoffman (R-Highland) said he agrees with Dwyer that before an RTA is established, it must be mulled over and funded by each community’s voters.
“We support the concept of an RTA, but we’re not saying it should be a special type of transportation,” he said. “We’re just saying we support this if the taxpayers want to fund it.”
Currently, regional transit agencies and road commissions act independently. There is no cohesive agency spearheading transportation needs in the region.
According to Craig Bryson, spokesperson for the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC), the move to establish an RTA would not impact the RCOC’s role or funding.
“It won’t affect us at all — transit agencies, yes, but not us,” he said. “We’re not funded through the county or state so there’s no direct impact. That said, it would be positive for the region.”
Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) Manager of Marketing & Communications Beth Gibbons said that although the agency is pleased that Oakland County is rallying behind an RTA, it’s too early to tell how SMART will be impacted.
“We are happy with the resolution that Oakland County is supporting, but there is no way of knowing how an RTA would affect us,” she said. “It will depend on how it is set up, how it’s funded, and how broad its powers are.”
Transportation Riders United (TRU), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving transportation and mobility in the greater Detroit area, also champions the creation of an RTA.
“One of the challenges to improve infrastructure here is that there’s no one in charge,” said TRU Executive Director Megan Owens. “An RTA would be an umbrella agency to oversee and coordinate agencies like SMART, (The Detroit Department of Transportation), and the People Mover, and to spearhead light rail, transit or commuter trains. Right now there’s no cohesiveness or one map that shows bus routes. An RTA could make sure that happens.”
Macomb and Washtenaw county officials and Detroit officials have also passed resolutions to move forward with an RTA; however, the Legislature must approve its creation before the electorate votes on the issue.
Funding a transit system could be similar to a SMART millage or a 5-cent sales tax, which is commonplace around the country, according to Owens.
She added that Gov. Rick Snyder intends to address infrastructure and transportation priorities at the end of October.
“He may use the Legislature to create an RTA and is having his advisors look into other options for funding,” Owens said.
The Southeast Michigan Regional Summit was held on Sept. 30, where county commission members from Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, St. Clair, and Washtenaw counties and Detroit City Council members focused on creative leadership and mass transit. According to Owens, who attended the summit, the meeting resulted in 12 county commissioners and representatives from these regions forming an ad hoc committee to advocate for an RTA and other transit improvements.
“They will also be challenging other county executives to do the same,” Owens said.