County officials agree southeast Michigan needs transit system, but back different options

Posted at 5:25 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 18:54:02-04

County leaders are showing their support for different public transportation plans.

Oakland and Macomb County officials support the SMART system while Wayne County officials are trying to push the Regional Transit Authority plan.

One thing they all can agree on – southeast Michigan needs a transportation system.

“Do I think the RTA should continue to exist? No," said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. "Because really it’s a glorified SMART.”

Patterson used to support the Regional Transit Authority, but not anymore.

He and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel spoke near the new Amazon facility in Shelby Township to highlight a new SMART bus route that will have stops in front of the building.

That’s if voters say yes to the SMART millage on ballots in August.

“Transit is about connecting systems that already exist or helping those areas that need better transit,” Hackel said. 

Both county leaders are looking for voter support and trying to put the word out that SMART millage is not related to the RTA, which they say does more for Detroiters than their residents.

“RTA is going to bring nothing more than more routes. It’s not a train system, it’s not a subway, light rail. It’s a bus system,” Patterson said.

Hackel agreed.

“There is no need for the RTA,” he said. “In fact, that’s what Macomb County voters said overwhelmingly in 2016. So, now my worry is that’s going to transfer over because of this ballot language, people saying, ‘wait a minute they are coming back after us again with that? No, we aren’t going to support that.’ They have no idea that that’s not RTA.”

In 2016, more than 900,000 pollers voted "no" on the RTA millage.

That’s only 18,000 more than those in favor of it.

Oakland County results were almost split 50/50, while 60 percent of voters in Macomb County were against it.

Assistant Wayne County Executive Khalil Rahal supports both SMART and RTA plans.

“We are one of the last regions, metropolitan areas in the country to not have a mass transit system,” Rahal said.

What makes RTA different, he explained, it will run every 15 minutes and cover more ground while SMART runs once an hour and only hits areas that opted-in to the plan.

The RTA plan would also provide service between the airport and the surrounding counties, including Washtenaw.

The key committee will vote on June 15 to decide if they will recommend the ballot proposal to move forward in November.

This requires unanimous support from all four counties, something Hackel says will likely not happen.

Overall, Rahal said voters should care about public transportation, even if they don’t plan to take it.

“Buses take cars off the road that means there is less accidents, there’s less death, there are less resources on the police and fire and EMS," he added. "There is less congestion, more productivity."

The RTA plans to have public meetings coming up.

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