Regional Transit Authority Approved by Legislature In Long-Sought Victory

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Transit advocates outside the Capitol on November 28.

It’s taken more than a year of hard work by Trans4M members, culminating with transit caroling at the Capitol. And it’s followed more than four decades of debate in metro Detroit. But at long last, the Michigan House and Senate have both approved all four bills for creating and funding a metro Detroit regional transit authority. They now await only Governor Snyder’s signature, expected within the week.

Talk of right-to-work has been dominating the headlines, but the regional transit authority is still big news for all of Michigan.

The regional transit authority, or RTA, will be empowered to coordinate the existing metro Detroit bus systems, DDOT and SMART, and to build new regional rapid transit lines. Exactly what they’ll look like remains to be determined, but the Silver Line bus rapid transit system, which Grand Rapids is breaking ground on next spring, provides one possible Michigan example. Importantly, the RTA will also be able to call a regional vote of the people on paying for the system, a first for metro Detroit. “Opt-outs,” through which some cities and townships avoid participation in the SMART bus system, will not be an option in the RTA.

The Motor City metropolis is the only major U.S. region without rapid transit. Yet people there, and all across Michigan, have decided the time for transit has come. Volunteer advocates put in hours of work to speak up for transit, coming from a sweeping array of organizations: faith groups (MOSES, Metro Council of Congregations), environmental advocates (Sierra Club, Michigan Environmental Council), disability organizations (Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, Disability Advocates of Kent County), and business organizations (Troy Chamber of Commerce), in addition to regional actors like the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and Transportation Riders United.

We still have a long road to travel to get the RTA off the ground and funded. One question at the moment is whether Washtenaw County will remain in the authority. Ann Arbor leaders have concerns over Ann Arbor Transportation Authority autonomy, and a strong desire for a commuter rail connection to Detroit, though some Washtenaw residents believe these can be resolved within the structure of an RTA.

For now, however, ’tis the season to celebrate this victory and prepare for the path ahead. Onward!

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