The Michigan Senate voted last week to approve legislation that seeks to establish a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) as a final step in securing $25 million in available federal funding for mass transit lines throughout southeast Michigan.
“I think it’s great and should be passed as soon as possible,” said Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) Transportation Director Carmine Palombo. “I don’t think it’s a perfect bill, but there are things the RTA can work out once the bill is passed. We need an RTA — someone in charge for accountability.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a regional transportation authority must be formed to qualify the region for the $25 million in federal aid that will be leveraged to develop the M-1 Woodward Avenue light rail street car project.
“The $25 million will help build the M-1 project from downtown Detroit to New Center,” Palombo said.
The RTA is currently set up to serve the public transit region of Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw and Macomb counties.
According to Senate Bill (SB) 909, the RTA “may design routes to augment, complement, enhance, replace, or improve other forms of public transit operating within or on the corridors.”
Initial plans for a rolling rapid transit system, apart from the M-1 project, may include a Woodward corridor line to operate along, on, or near a location in downtown Birmingham.
The transit system may also include a Gratiot corridor line to operate along, on, or near Gratiot Avenue between a downtown Detroit station and a location in downtown Mt. Clemens in Macomb County; and a northern cross-county line to operate between the city of Troy and Mt. Clemens that could have stations along Big Beaver Road in Troy and M-59 in portions of Oakland and Macomb counties.
Transit lines could also be built along a western cross-county line to operate between the downtown Detroit station and the Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center of about 47 miles and include stations in Ypsilanti, Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport, and Dearborn. It will be up to the authority to determine the exact route.
The legislation does not call for a merger of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) and the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT); however, the RTA would be in charge of SMART and DDOT bus routes in tandem with establishing rapid-transit bus routes with dedicated bus lanes.
“DDOT and SMART are not going away — it just puts someone in charge to review the routes, see how they’re operating and the criteria so the agency can work more cohesively and efficiently,” Palombo said. “Hopefully service can be expanded, as well.”
DDOT and SMART are the two primary providers of public transportation services in southeast Michigan. DDOT is an agency of Detroit city government and provides fixed route bus service along 52 routes primarily within the city. It’s the largest public transit system in the state.
SMART is a regional transit authority organized under the Metro Transportation Authorities Act of 1967. It provides bus service primarily outside of the Detroit’s jurisdiction in suburban Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and between the city of Detroit and suburban communities. SMART is the second largest transit agency in the state.
Currently the bill is in the hands of the state House Transportation Committee.
If passed, the legislation gives the RTA the right to acquire property for a public transit system “by purchase, construction, lease, gift, or devise, either within or without the area served by the public transit system, and may hold, manage, control, sell, exchange, or lease property. The authority may utilize any appropriate statute for the purpose of condemnation. The authority may only utilize condemnation proceedings to acquire property located within the public transit region.”
The legislation would also enable the RTA to secure funding via an increase in vehicle registration fees or placing special assessment districts (SADs) on the ballot if approved by seven of the nine authority board members.
“The legislation has language so that the RTA can go to the people and ask for an increase in vehicle registration fees and some options for SADs, not millages,” Palombo said.
SEMCOG has conducted a new Woodward Avenue rapid transit alternative analysis along the 27-mile-long Woodward Avenue corridor and will be holding public hearings to glean public opinion on the study. See www.semcog.org for more information.