Sitting on the 19th floor of One Woodward Center this afternoon, the energy was clear: Despite the overwhelming support of those in the public who had come downtown to this hearing, the transit plan from the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan as we know it is on critical life support.
After a litany of public comments, RTA officials walked through with a policy lovers precision some of the changes they had made to the plan to attempt to fend off the county executioners, and the City of Detroit’s representative made a plea for passage on behalf of Mayor Mike Duggan, but the result was foreordained.
Two votes were held. One was in support of the plan that easily passed 7-2 that many praised the “hard work” of the RTA staff in putting together. That basically meaningless vote was for all intents and purposes a kind gesture, as the meat and potatoes was putting the $4.6 billion, four-county plan before voters.
That required a supermajority vote. But not just any supermajority – one representative from each county had to vote yes. In a way, the veto power the Macomb County commissioner Mark Hackel has been saying in interviews he wanted, his representatives held when it came to approving the ballot language.
And so, in just a couple minutes, it was done. With Macomb and Oakland County leaders opposed, there was no way even with a majority of votes the transit plan would go before voters.
RTA Chaiman Paul Hillegonds was clear that time was running out, and that they may call one more special meeting next Thursday to try to hash out the details, but what needed to happen was a meeting of the executives, because without that, nothing is moving.
Many of the changes Oakland and Macomb County want are substantial when it comes to the plan and the governance structure – some may be outside of the guidelines of state law. Some are that not enough transit goes north of 14 mile. That also would require master plan changes.
The RTA board has until August 16 to get ballot language approved by the board of canvassers – and it’s advised you come up with a plan before the actual day deadline in case there are any unforeseen issues.
In order to get from here to there, a lot of political horse trading would have to be done.
The mood there, despite the hopeful spin by PR folks, was clear. This may very well be the day the 27th attempt at a regional mass transit plan for metro Detroit died.