(TNS) -- The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan says a truly regional public transportation system for the Detroit area will cost the average homeowner about $95 per year.
The RTA will officially unveil its long-awaited master plan today at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, but the Free Press was given an early look at the details.
Voters in the four-county RTA region — Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne — are expected to vote in November on a 1.2-mill, 20-year property tax millage to fund new bus rapid transit lines, express service to Detroit Metro Airport and commuter rail and improvements to local bus, paratransit and other mobility options. Before the $4.6 billion plan can go to voters, the RTA board needs to formally approve it, most likely at the board’s July 21 meeting.
RTA Chief Executive Officer Michael Ford called it “a very substantive plan that meets the needs” of the region.
“What we are bringing forward is a plan that connects the region, the four-county region, and in order to do that, we need to build on the existing system to make it more effective, more efficient, and to … expand services and introduce new levels of service as well,” Ford said during a meeting at the Free Press last week.
The plan is an aggressive response to the more than two dozen failed attempts to create a vibrant regional public transportation system in a long underserved area, which invests a fraction of what other regions do. The dysfunction was on stark display early last year when the Free Press chronicled James Robertson’s daily commute between his home in Detroit and his job in Rochester Hills. He became known as the Walking Man because, even though some bus service was available for him, Robertson was still forced to walk more than 20 miles per day.
"Southeast Michigan is the only major urban area in the country without a viable, coordinated public transit system. If we are going to be competitive in a 21st-Century global economy, developing a transit system that meets the needs of a changing world is absolutely essential," RTA Chair Paul Hillegonds said in a news release.
The RTA’s master plan is designed to address many of the significant gaps in the Detroit-area’s regional transportation network. As reported previously by the Free Press, the plan calls for bus rapid transit, described as light rail on wheels, along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues (a separate line would connect Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) and a commuter rail between Ann Arbor and the Amtrak station in Detroit’s New Center.
But a plethora of expanded and other new services are also planned. Many local service improvements would happen in the first five years. Other services, such as bus rapid transit and commuter rail would happen from 2022-2026.
Because there are no opt-out communities under the RTA as is the case with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, metro Detroit's suburban bus service, the RTA can coordinate bus service to so-called opt-out areas of Wayne and Oakland counties.
Under the plan, 11 cross-county connector routes along major thoroughfares, such as Van Dyke, Fort Street, Grand River, Greenfield, Plymouth, Jefferson/Harper and numerous Mile roads, would build on existing SMART and Detroit Department of Transportation networks but provide buses in some cases every 15 minutes and eliminate the hassle of transfers between DDOT and SMART.
Four commuter express routes — Ann Arbor-Plymouth-Livonia, Canton Express, I-75 and M-59 — would provide weekday express rush hour service to and from job centers.
Five premium airport express routes would connect Ann Arbor, Troy, Novi, Macomb County and Detroit to Metro Airport.
Local bus service would be expanded in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas, and other extensions would, according to a draft map, add service to the Livonia, Northville, Canton, Utica, Farmington Hills and Rochester Hills areas. A Groesbeck Highway route would be added in Macomb County and Detroit, and another extension would connect Pontiac to Oakland County International Airport.
Transit center and maintenance facility upgrades would be in the works as would a unified fare card for the various transit providers.
If passed, the millage would start in 2017. It’s expected to raise about $150 million per year and cost the owner of a home assessed at $78,856 — the average in southeast Michigan, according to the RTA — about $95 per year. For homes with an assessed value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value), the cost would be about $120 per year.
The millage would be on top of the millages for property owners in areas served by SMART and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.
The RTA, which was created by the Legislature in 2012, is an umbrella organization charged with coordinating DDOT, SMART, AAATA and the Detroit People Mover. In 2024, it will also take over responsibility for the QLINE, the streetcar line being built on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, which is expected to be operational next year.
Regarding the difference between this attempt at regional transit and all the previous unsuccessful efforts, Ford noted that he reports to a 10-member board with two representatives from each of the counties and members representing the governor and the city of Detroit and that the real focus is to ensure regional cooperation and coordination through the existing providers. The RTA projects that the plan would have a $6-billion economic development impact.
The likelihood of the millage's passage is unknown at this point. The RTA cites polling the organization did showing a majority of 800 respondents support such a plan — 53% before information was provided and 65% afterward — and experts say transit millage requests tend to do well. While transit advocates and groups like the Detroit Regional Chamber are supporting the effort, some prominent public officials, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel have so-far declined to endorse the millage request, saying it will be up to voters.
Although the plan would significantly boost transit spending in the region, southeast Michigan would still lag other parts of the country. Regions like New York ($886), San Francisco ($615) and Washington, D.C. ($435), invest far more, according to federal data of operating expenditures per capita provided by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
"We'll probably be akin to something like a Cleveland," Ford said.
Cleveland spent about $144 in operating expenditures per capita in 2014, which is about double the amount for southeast Michigan, according to information from SEMCOG.
©2016 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.