December 9, 2012 by Benji
Whats that old expression “29th time is a charm” ? i know its something like that.
On a serious note, This is a great opportunity to folks like the Freshwater Railway to get involved in the planning and execution of a clear and focused public transit system for Detroit.
Michigan House approves bill to create regional transit authority
4:50 PM, December 6, 2012 By Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press
The state House approved a bill that will create a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan, by a vote of 57-50.
The historic bill was more than 40 years in the making and now heads to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. He put the bill as one of his top priorities, but it almost didn’t happen because Democrats refused to vote for the bill while the contentious right-to-work bill was on the agenda.
It took three tries – and only one vote from Democrats, state Rep. Lesia Liss, of Warren – to get the bill passed.
The authority would be governed by a seven-member board consisting of two members from each of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and one member from Detroit. One of the Wayne County appointees would have to be from the city of Detroit. It would coordinate the city and suburban bus service provided by the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (or SMART). It also would spearhead the creation of a light-rail line and bus rapid transit system.
The authority would have the ability to seek millages to run public transportation, but each county would have to approve any request before it went on the ballot.
The federal Department of Transportation said it’s ready to inject millions into mass transit in metro Detroit, including $25 million to a light-rail line from downtown Detroit to the New Center area, if the state and region can craft a regional cooperative effort that would improve public transportation.
Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, a Detroit-based advocacy group, said today that she was pleased with the passage of one of the bills but also concerned that if the other bill, dealing with funding mechanisms, wasn’t approved in the lame-duck session, supporters would have to restart the process next year because a regional transit authority can’t go forward without dedicated money.
“It’s far from the end, but it’s a really exciting and crucial step forward we weren’t sure we would achieve,” Owens said.
John Hertel, general manager of SMART, has spent years encouraging leaders to line up behind a regional authority he viewed as more important than winning a light-rail line down Woodward.
Hertel said that while light rail would be a shiny, symbolic win – giving metro Detroiters a taste of public transportation done much better in big cities such as New York, Chicago and Boston – plans for a rapid-transit bus system was the better choice.
It would create a backbone of modern, speedy, reliable buses along Michigan Avenue, Woodward, Gratiot and M-59 and come with the authority to force SMART and DDOT to coordinate their services with the new bus rapid transit system.
It would have the force of being able to withhold federal funding if DDOT and SMART didn’t cooperate, and the federal government would release hundreds of millions of dollars for modern transit in metro Detroit, money that the region has foregone for decades to the benefit of other cities that have their acts together.
With metro Detroit able to demonstrate regional cooperation on funding a more efficient network of buses, Hertel said, Washington would be far more willing to send money to help build light rail, and it could go beyond efforts like the city’s failed attempt to build light rail on Woodward from downtown to 8 Mile.
That project was shorted and revived by a private sector group of downtown business leaders, philanthropic and civic groups still hoping to build M-1 Rail between downtown and the New Center area, about 3 miles. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has pledged $25 million toward the project, but only if the state approves a regional transit authority to begin long-needed reforms.