Public transportation battle rages on - with no sign of slowing

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Many rely on it, many don't understand the need for it - public transportation continues to be a polarizing issue in metro Detroit and it's a fight that shows no signs of slowing down.

It hit a dead end in 2016, and now Wayne County executives hope to rev up and give regional transit another go this year with buses, and eventually trains, that go from Wayne to Oakland, to Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Khalil Rahal with Wayne County says Amazon put the brakes on a deal with Detroit, in part, because there's no regional transit. 

"Should we wait around? Do we want to wait until the next Amazon or whatever else passes us by when they clearly said this would be an issue for them?  I don't think we can afford to wait," Rahal said.

Rahal, executive director of the county's economic development corporation, says it makes sense to put dollars behind the effort. He along with his boss, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, hope it makes it to the ballot for you to vote on this November. They have 9 months for their campaign to take birth, something Rahal argues every other viable city already has or is developing.  

"If you look at the list of the places that made the top 20 for Amazon, they either have robust transit systems or are they are just passing, funding or planning to fund a robust transit system - so we have to learn from these lessons," he said.

Money needs to go elsewhere - that's the message in Macomb County. Drivers travel on Mound Road, riddled with pot holes. The fix would cost anywhere between $200 million or more just for Mound. More than a billion would be needed to fix all the roads in the county. 

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel says dollars have to hit the roads rather than this initiative. He also asks why there's such a rush to put it on a ballot this fall. 

"I'm not one to see how do we rapidly get through this, put some kind of a plan out there and hope there is a stronger segment of a population in Detroit or Wayne county that votes heavy enough and commits everyone to a regional transit plan that not everyone buys into," he said.

Hackel also points to autonomous vehicles - a future vision which he argues could make regional transit obsolete. 

"We have an incredible corridor for people to actually travel on, through connected vehicles. So whatever investments we are making can't just be about buses that might be obsolete in 5, 10, 15 years from now. We need to be investing in something that's futuristic," he said.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was unavailable for comment, though his spokesperson is reported as saying they have not seen a master plan yet.  
The Regional Transit Authority is making their case all across Michigan, asking voters to say yes. 

"We think regional transit is one of the priorities," said Carmine Palombo, RTA. "That's what we hear from people and we're trying to work with all the county executives and the mayor to try to find a common ground."

"For every dollar you put in public transportation you get something like four dollars back into the economy," Rahal said. "And that's money you can use for roads or other things."