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Southeast Michigan has a regional transit authority. What's next?

Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio

Transit advocates in southeast Michigan are hailing the creation of a new regional transit authority.

Governor Snyder signed legislation to create the authority this month. It will include members from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties, as well as the city of Detroit.

Megan Owens heads the group Transportation Riders United. She says the authority represents a “huge step forward” in coordinating the region’s fragmented transit systems—but transit advocates will be keeping a close eye on things.

“To make sure that this new agency is doing both what’s in the national best practice, but most importantly doing what’s best for our community and our region to move forward.”

The first step is for county executives or their equivalents to appoint RTA board members. Then comes a CEO search process, one Owens says transit advocates hope will be wide-reaching and transparent. Washtenaw County has already begun the process.

Owens says it’s likely the RTA won’t really get underway until the summer of 2013, adding: “In many ways, it’s just the start of a whole new effort to revitalize transit in our region.”

In addition to coordinating and funding the region’s transit systems, the RTA is also charged with updating a regional transit plan. It’s likely voters will eventually be asked to approve a new tax for transit services.

Over the span of decades, the state legislature had tried to create a regional transit authority no less than two-dozen times.

The deal only came together after months of political arm-twisting, and amidst the flurry of legislation passed in this month’s lame duck session in Lansing.  

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had warned that Michigan would miss out on millions of dollars in federal transit funds—including money for a proposed light rail line on Woodward Avenue—without an RTA. Detroit had been the only major metro area in the country without one.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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