$5.4 Billion Regional Mass Transit Plan Pitched By Wayne County Executive Evans, Macomb’s Hackel Says Fund Roads First

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Wayne County Executive Warren Evans unveiled a new plan today to improve regional transit.

The draft plan is called “Connect Southeast Michigan.” It comes as the region’s leaders struggle to advance a transit plan in the wake of Detroit’s failed Amazon bid and the narrow defeat by voters of the Regional Transit Authority proposal in 2016.    

It calls for 15 bus routes with 15-minutes in between each bus; expanded bus service in others areas a commuter express rail from Detroit to Ann Arbor with 8 trips a day, and something called “Hometown Service.”

The buses would in some areas be able to talk to traffic signals, or have “signal priority,” changing as they arrive to keep service moving, and new buses would have wi-fi service.

Hometown Service would be available in 60 communities in the four participating counties with expansions to dial-a-ride, homebound service support, medical campus connections and office and downtown connections in those areas.

Here are some of the other highlights:

  • The plan would ask voters for a 1.5 mill increase over the next 20 years. It would raise $5.4 billion from local taxpayers and, according to county officials, unlock another $1.3 billion in farebox, tate and federal dollars.
  • $696 million would be spent on transit infrastructure across the four county region over the life of the plan, and $170 million per year would focus on operations.
  • $20 million annually would go toward so-called “advanced mobility” programs.
  • Money would be saved through joint purchasing agreements for administrative, planning and procurement services.
  • There would be one universal fare card usable across the Detroit region.

If one wants to look at why mass transit around here isn’t in line with competitive regions, it’s pretty easy. Metro Detroit invests, per person, less than almost any other region in the nation (especially among larger ones). Detroit spends currently $67 per capita on mass transit.

Cities like Atlanta and Cleveland spend double; Chicago spends more than four times per person; and Seattle, home of Amazon and Microsoft, spend more than six times what Detroit does.

Many experts agree that for every $1 spent on mass transportation, $4 comes back in economic value. According to Michigan Department of Transportation models, the plan would create $6.6 billion in additional gross regional product and $4.5 billion in income for quad-county residents.

The full RTA plan map. Click to embiggen.

This plan focuses on a few areas for bus upgrades.

  • The three spokes of Gratiot, Michigan and Woodward currently served by SMART’s FAST Service would get enhanced.
  • A route down Mound and Van Dyke in Macomb County would be added as a regional route and Grand River would expand, with both offering 24 hour service.
  • Ten routes would be upgraded and consolidated that run across multiple counties.
  • Four routes would be added to the airport, and 11 commuter express routes.

There would also be future planning, including for dedicated transit-only lanes, streetcar expansion, and expanded service between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

For his part, Mayor Mike Duggan supports the plan.

Macomb County executive Mark Hackel told the Frank Beckmann on WJR that doesn’t believe that mass transit is why Amazon hasn’t chosen Detroit and says it’s the image and reality of the city of Detroit itself. He’s for funding SMART and wonders “where is our money really going.” He wants to fund roads first. 

A recent report says that it would cost $1.2 billion to fix just Macomb County’s roads.

The plan, which has the support of RTA board chair Paul Hillegonds, would need the approval of 7 of 9 Regional Transit Authority board members to be put it on the 2018 ballot. 

Shianne Nocerini and Sven Gustafson also contributed to this report.

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