Transit advocates rejoice after regional authority clears Senate

From MLive:

A rendering of the proposed M-1 streetcar system that would run from Downtown Detroit to the city’s New Center neighborhood.

Transit advocates rejoiced Tuesday over the state Senate’s passage of legislation that would create a regional transportation authority for southeast Michigan.

A number of Detroit-area public transportation projects depend on the legislation, including the planned M-1 streetcar development that would stretch from Detroit’s Downtown to the city’s New Center.

And construction began Tuesday in Troy on a $6.3 million transit center that officials hope can become a hub for a comprehensive, regional, high-speed rail and bus system – a prospect that would grow more likely if the the legislation also passes the House.

The regional transportation authority would be tasked with developing a regional transportation plan, serving as a recipient for state and federal grants, coordinating routes between existing bus networks and implementing a new rolling rapid transit system.

The Senate vote Tuesday was seen as a step toward ending decades of in-fighting that stalled previous efforts to coordinate and improve public transportation in southeast Michigan.

“It’s exciting news,” said Joel Batterman, transportation programs coordinator for the nonprofit Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

“For the economic prosperity of the region and to connect our communities, it’s just essential that we join the rest of the civilized word in having a good public transportation system.”

Detroit-area activists have been making trips to Lansing to push for the legislation, and a group plans to be back there Wednesday morning to speak with House representatives.

“A lot of representatives in the House haven’t heard too much about the bill at this point,” said Batterman. “Tomorrow, we’ll be looking to talk to them and let them know why it’s so important.”

In one unique demonstration set for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., about 30 transit advocates from the groups Transportation Riders United, MOSES Michigan, the Sierra Club and the Michigan Suburbs Alliance have planned a Motown-inspired musical performance calling for the legislation’s passage at the steps of the state Capitol.

They say they’ll sing “Ain’t no mountain high enough – to keep us from a regional transit authority.”

The Woodward Avenue Streetcar Project in Detroit, for which U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has offered federal funding if a transit authority is created, is likely the most high-profile and immediate development to benefit from the legislation.

“As we continue to work hard on making M-1 RAIL a reality as a catalyst for investment, economic development and urban revitalization within Detroit, the region’s core city, we are encouraged by what took place in Lansing (on Tuesday) and look forward to continuing our support for the RTA over the coming months,” said M-1 Rail President Matt Cullen in a statement.

There has also been wide-ranging suburban support for the bills.

The Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to express support for the legislation last week.

“I grew up without a car or driver in our family,” said Commissioner Peggy Goodwin in response to Tuesday’s Senate vote, “so we were dependent upon taxis and buses for our transportation in Metro Detroit. I know first-hand what it is like to go about your daily business without adequate mass transit.

“Today, our car culture has left many without the ability to navigate Southeast Michigan… We have a lot of catching up to do and I hope this signifies that our RTA will stick this time. It is imperative to the future prosperity of our region.”

The authority’s governing board would be comprised of one representative of the governor and two representatives each from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. One of the Wayne representatives must be from Detroit.

Each county initially would be considered a provisional member of the authority and would not receive voting power or transportation service until local voters approve a special assessment or vehicle registration fee to help fund the system.

Initial plans call for high speed buses running in dedicated lanes on four regional routes: The Woodward corridor from Detroit to Pontiac, the Gratiot corridor from Detroit to Mt. Clemens, a northern cross-county line from Pontiac to Mt. Clemens and a western cross-county line from Detroit to Ann Arbor.