Sparks fly in regional transit plan debate by Big Four

A leadership luncheon was supposed to be a panel on how business and education can work together Friday. 

But the topic quickly turned to mass transit - and accusations of racism. The normally friendly event turned feisty when our region's big four leaders took the stage at Cobo Center.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan are for putting the $5.4-billion-dollar regional transit plan on the ballot.

But Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson are only for it if all of their communities are on board. Which Duggan claims will kill the plan.

"That's too expensive," Patterson said. "I'll take a plan, we offered $1.2 billion over 20 years, my county would pay - and it was rejected."

"The problem is they didn't support the plan," Hackel said. "If I could finish, (an) overwhelming majority of Macomb County voted no - an overwhelming amount said no to the plan - not that they didn't support regional transit."

Hackel says Macomb County residents are much more concerned about the roads and would prefer a plan to fix that first. 

Evans said they have revised the plan that was too focused on main roads - he feels voters, who would have access to more routes, should ultimately be the ones to make the decision about moving the plan forward.

"Fix the roads or RTA? We've got to do them both," Evans said. "I mean we are the worst region in this country for transit."

"Transit isn't big busses run everywhere," Duggan said. "It is a mix of s choices. And the plan county executive Evans put on the ballot, was a beautiful plan. And that crossed 12 Mile, 15 Mile and 23 Mile." 

The conversation became heated at times but most contentious when the moderator from Crain's Detroit asked Hackel if racism played a role in rejecting the mass transit plan in 2016.

"Because they don't support this plan, you want to create with your comment, that there is some sort of racial issue with Macomb County," Hackel said. "I take exception to that and I refuse to let that to continue to divide the region."

Hackel added that Macomb County supports many regional efforts including the Detroit Zoo and SMART bus, but there is a big difference when it comes to supporting regional transit and this plan.
Sparks fly in regional transit plan debate by Big Four