After suffering a narrow defeat at the ballot box in 2016, the Detroit area Regional Transit Authority (RTA) appears ready to try again next year, offering a similar transportation plan but one that would impact fewer taxpayers.
Though details are not final, the ballot proposal would cost approximately $4 billion over 20 years, with an emphasis on improving the region’s rush hour bus service on 13 major roads. According to the Curbed Detroit website, the RTA will hold public meetings over the next several months to discuss their revised plans in each of the four counties that would be affected: Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw.
The transit authority’s board reportedly expects to approve the millage proposal in the fall, which would open the door to another property tax vote in 2020. The preliminary price tag of $4 billion, which includes additional federal and state funding, is less than the $4.7 billion plan that failed three years ago.
Another major distinction this time around would be that taxpayers on the semi-rural fringe of the region would not receive new services and would not have to pay the tax. As a result, they wouldn’t see the plan on their 2020 ballot. Such a move would require a change to the RTA charter by the state Legislature.
The 2016 ballot proposal lost mostly because voters on the northern edges of the RTA service area in Oakland and especially Macomb opposed it. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson were the most outspoken critics, saying sparsely populated areas would receive nearly no new benefits and that commuters would rather see improved roads than more buses.
That argument persisted last year when the RTA’s hopes for a 1.5-mill tax proposal in 2018 were dashed by continuing opposition from Hackel and Patterson. The 1.2-mill property tax rejected at the 2016 ballot box would have cost the typical suburban homeowner with a $150,000 house roughly $80 to $90 a year.
The persistent push by transit advocates for another RTA tax offering tends to focus on rush hour express bus service every 15 minutes on Woodward, Michigan, Grand River, Mound/Van Dyke, Gratiot and several other major thoroughfares.
More aggressive, long-term ideas envision an express train from downtown Detroit to Detroit City Airport and a commuter rail line from Mount Clemens to Chelsea, west of Ann Arbor.
Crain’s Detroit Business reports that the express buses service created two years ago by the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) at a cost of $11 million annually have paid big dividends. In June, SMART’s FAST service weekday ridership on the Gratiot, Michigan and Woodward avenue corridors was up 49 percent from June 2017, prior to the improved service — an additional 4,500 weekday trips.
Better coordination of services by SMART and the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), particularly a new universal pay card for riders, have also made a difference.