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Macomb, Oakland concerns could blow up Metro Detroit transit plan

Jul 23, 2016

An ambitious plan to expand and upgrade regional transit in Metro Detroit might stall out because two key regional players aren’t on board.

Those two key players are Oakland and Macomb counties.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority wants to put a millage on the November ballot, that would raise about $3 billion (estimates vary) over 20 years to fund its proposed transit master plan.

The RTA board was supposed to approve the ballot measure this week, but ended up postponing the vote at the last minute.

That’s because it needs Oakland and Macomb votes to do that, and those counties’ leaders aren’t on board yet.

Deputy Oakland County Executive Gerald Poisson said the board could adopt the plan itself by simple majority vote.

“But what they can’t do under the law, is they can’t place a tax question on the ballot, and they can’t set the amount to be asked for, without at least one affirmative vote from each county,” Poisson said.

In a July 5 memo to RTA CEO Michael Ford, Oakland County outlined 19 pages of objections to the current master plan.

But deputy county executive Gerald Poisson says it’s mostly about a few key things—like the plan’s total lack of service to parts of the county.

“You leave over a half a million Oakland County residents behind, and think we’re going to jump on that plan,” Poisson said.

Other concerns include how funding for existing transit services will be allocated between the four RTA counties, which include Wayne and Washtenaw, and the city of Detroit.

And they want to make sure that the eventual transit plan is binding, and can’t be changed by a majority board vote. “There’s nothing about how they’re going to put in place a mechanism to ensure the plan gets executed the way it’s presented before the voters,” Poisson said.

The memo also made clear that they don’t want to pony up for a Detroit to Ann Arbor rail line that includes a stop at Metro Airport (“a service that will not touch Oakland or Macomb County”), or having the RTA assume control of the still-under-construction M1/Qline streetcar service in Detroit’s central core (“simply a non-starter”).

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said in a statement they are now pro-transit, but named a number of problems with this deal, and asked for specific, guaranteed return on investment for communities.

“I supported the legislation to create the RTA. There are growing business clusters throughout Oakland County with thousands of jobs that people must be connected to. Effective regional transit that people can utilize to reliably commute to work is important for both employers and employees. The current RTA plan fails to accomplish that on virtually every level,” Patterson said.

“The public needs a straightforward proposal that clearly identifies how the money will be spent,” Hackel said. “We remain dedicated to working with the RTA to develop such a proposal.”

A ballot proposal must be agreed upon and submitted to county clerks by mid-August to be put on the November ballot.

In a statement, board chair Paul Hillegonds said the RTA is “requesting an additional week “to evaluate and address those concerns.” The board is expected to take the plan up again at a special meeting next week.