October 1, 2012
On Thursday in Lansing, business owners, community members, and government leaders from both sides of the aisle gathered at the state capitol with one clear message: It's time for a regional transit authority (RTA) in southeast Michigan.
The RTA would coordinate public transportation across suburban Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties, helping to set the groundwork for a system that would help move Michigan's economy into the future. A bill to create a new regional transit board is now pending before the state legislature.
In a special message to the legislature last year, Governor Rick Snyder explained the importance of reinventing Michigan's infrastructure, noting that "A sound and modern infrastructure is vital to attracting and retaining jobs." He went on to highlight the need for an RTA in southeast Michigan:
Southeast Michigan is the largest metropolitan area in America that does not have a high capacity rapid transit service in place, or under development. Detroit metropolitan leaders have debated the development of a single transit authority to serve the 4.2 million residents of the region for decades, but have failed on every one of 23 documented attempts. Mayor Bing and I have worked with US Department of Transportation to form a task force including federal, state, city of Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw to facilitate communication and achieve agreement to move forward on regional transit.
Continued failure is not an option.
Safe, reliable, and efficient transit can be the mobility backbone that supports the economic revival of Michigan's metropolitan areas by expanding labor markets for business and job opportunities for workers.
Indeed, local officials including Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Washtenaw County Commission Chairman Conan Smith, Detroit Chief Operating Officer Chris Brown, and Oakland County Deputy Executive Bob Daddow were on hand to offer support for the RTA. "The residents want to see a successful plan. They don't want to see a 24th failure," Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel testified.
Bill Rustem, director of strategy for Governor Snyder, testified on why a public transportation system is so important for Michigan and the region:
Demographically, up to 140,000 Detroiters commute every day to jobs outside of the city, and up 40% of Detroiters do not own or cannot drive a car. Detroit's population has declined, but the region's population has remained stable at 4.2 million citizens, so people are moving out of the city, but they are not moving far. Modern transit allows citizens to remain in their neighborhoods while still being able to access work, education, entertainment and services.
Chambers of Commerce and business leaders agree that safe, reliable regional transit is an economic engine that returns $4-$8 in new, transit oriented development for every $1 invested. Younger, tech-savvy generations are driving less and getting their licenses later because cars are expensive , driving can be tedious, and precious time can be spent more productively – for many, driving is a distraction to texting.
Southeast Michigan competes with other metropolitan regions for new investment, companies on the move, and young college-educated professionals that can choose to live anywhere. Regions that "get it" and work to build more livable, vibrant communities will prosper; those that don't will be left behind.
Read more about transportation in Governor Snyder's special message.