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A DDOT bus sits outside of Cass Tech

Sometimes, you have to take the hint. The Regional Transit Authority Millage – losing by a wide margin in Macomb County (60/40) and a small one in Oakland – isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it should be a signal.

The Detroit Regional Chamber and many business leaders signed on to support the RTA proposal.

“To say we’re disappointed is an understatement. However, we respect the will of the voters and will continue to seek solutions to connect our region and provide mobility to those without access to personal vehicles,” said Chamber President and Sandy Baruah.

We have some suggestions, and it involves leading from the front. We outlined a bit of it before when transit was on the ropes before, but now that rejection is a reality it’s time to pick it up.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who has the political capital, should reach out to the leaders of Wayne County, the Ann Arbor Transit Authority and the city of Ann Arbor and forge a new path that involves both counties and whatever neighboring cities in Oakland County that want to play such as Ferndale to set up a new coalition.

Governor Rick Snyder is an Ann Arborite and understands the importance of transit. He also has two years left as governor, and could be a key ally in this.

It’s time to move on transit without Macomb and much of Oakland. Their vote made it clear. They simply don’t share the belief that investing in transit is an important part of being a world class region or their own success.

Business leaders who supported the RTA proposal (most who were in Wayne and Washtenaw) should be prepared to put their money where their mouth is and help bankroll an airport line to downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, that runs through Ford country in Dearborn. If you are connecting two of the three major automakers (including GM), you’re making progress.

The new Reflex lines down Woodward and Gratiot should be left in place, but an additional one added down Jefferson to support what’s going to be a burgeoning east side of Detroit as well as the Grosse Pointes, who have reliably supported transit over the years. Maybe one down Grand River and Fort.

This idea isn’t perfect. A lot of jobs are in Oakland and Macomb County, but much of those counties simply do not want mass transit. If the businesses there can’t get workers and don’t like it, if it harms their business enough, they will eventually move to where they can get workers.

Some critics say we should have merged SMART and DDOT. Due to political reasons and the desire of control of dollars, SMART and DDOT are not going to merge, and there’s no serious outside force that will help make that happen. So let’s take that off the table right now. There is no political will for that.

Next Steps

This millage failure is a unique opportunity for Detroit and Ann Arbor to take take back and cement their leadership positions in the state. When international investors and travelers come to Detroit, they’re going to see Washtenaw and Wayne because that’s how they’ll leave Metro Airport.

When businesses and residents see the growth that happens along transit lines, they’re either go along with a future expansion of a two-county plan, move to Wayne or Washtenaw counties, or be left behind.

If something like the above plan is implemented, we’re going to be looking at a very different region, and a different balance of power within it, ten years from now.