Lawmakers, county executives restarting effort to bring regional transit to Michigan

Since a slight shakeup among leadership at the county executive level, there's been whispers of another effort to bring mass transit to southeast Michigan. 

Now that the chief critic of the plan, L. Brooks Patterson is not longer running Oakland County, that effort may have more support. On Monday, a lawmaker and a trio of county leaders converged on a press conference to kickstart the effort.

"We need transit and we can't afford to wait," said Warren Evans, the Wayne County executive. "We have seniors who cannot get to this hospital because they lack mobility and find themselves stuck in their homes. They deserve better."

Speaking inside Royal Oak Beaumont, Evans was joined by Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioner Chair Jason Morgan, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and State Rep. Jason Sheppard announced in unison their intention.

"You can see it when companies come to look to this region, one of the first things they ask is about our transportation and our transit and what do we have and what are we doing and what's our future hold?" said Sheppard (R-Temperance). "I want this to be a bipartisan-supported effort."

Sheppard introduced a bill that would allow the original agreement between the three counties and the city of Detroit to ask their respective voters for money to fund the agreement. It would come in the form of a property tax.

"This is not a transit plan. This is legislation that could get us to a transit plan," Evans said. "If these amendments pass, it allows Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw leaders to negotiate a service area so we can develop a three-county transit plan with public engagement."

Notably exempt from the conference was Macomb County Mark Hackel, who stood with Patterson the last time conversations of a regional transit system were discussed. Last time communities voted on a measure that would raise taxes for the RTA in 2018, opposition from the two executives helped defeat the measure.

However, with acting executive Coulter now in Patterson's seat and a proponent of a regional transit system between the trio of counties and Detroit, leaders think they may have enough backing.

"I look forward to working with the legislature, getting this done and then as County Executive Evans said, more importantly getting a plan before the county commissions in, before the voters next year that can move our region forward," said Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter.

Detroit's mayor is also in support of an RTA.

"A quarter of our residents in the city of Detroit do not have a car. Which means their ability to get to work, to get to school, to get to entertainment is limited by a transit system that's probably the worst in the county," said Duggan.

However, those speaking were careful not to imply any sense of force by introducing a bill - merely offering voters the opportunity to move forward.

"None of this is a mandate, none of this is something that's forced upon the citIzens. This is all something that can be chosen to be done based upon the county's involvement and the voters in each jurisdiction," said Sheppard.