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Huge win for public transportation

Transit Authority several decades in the making
Legislation creating a Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA), passed in the late 2012 legislative session and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, is a huge victory for public transportation and the culmination of years of work by the Michigan Environmental Council and its allies.

“This lays the groundwork for a more reliable, convenient and affordable system of public transportation options in our state’s most populated region,” said Chris Kolb, MEC president. “It is a critical tool to connect people with jobs, neighborhoods, retail and cultural attractions. It will help make Southeast Michigan competitive with other regions where strong transportation backbones support local economies, reduce congestion and pollution and enhance quality of life,” he said.

Gov. Rick Snyder has been an RTA advocate and signed the Authority into law on Dec. 19. It will be run by an appointed board and a professional staff to coordinate and oversee regional public transit service in Southeast Michigan. It will help ensure the smooth coordination of bus and rail services throughout the region, creating cost savings through efficiencies and the elimination of duplicate and overlapping services. This is a vital step to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness for the region’s beleaguered transit service, improve management of resources, and eventually expand regional transit service.

It was a long time coming. More than 20 legislative attempts to create an authority have failed during the past several decades. It passed during the midst of a chaotic lame duck legislative session when massive protests over Right to Work legislation were dominating the headlines in early December.

It received consistent and strong advocacy from groups across the state, including Transportation for Michigan (Trans4M), a broad coalition which MEC helps lead.

“The Motor City metropolis is the only major U.S. region without rapid transit,” reported Trans4M. “Yet people there, and all across Michigan, have decided the time for transit has come. Volunteer advocates put in hours of work to speak up for transit, coming from a sweeping array of organizations.”

It was the capstone achievement for the coalition in 2012, whose victories included fully restored state funding for existing transportation systems and improvements along the Pontiac-to-Chicago rail line that will improve both passenger and freight rail service. The rail improvements, with the help of federal funding leveraged by state dollars, will significantly cut travel times along the route. Gov. Snyder has been a consistent supporter of both the Transit Authority and improved rail transportation in Michigan. His staff helped push the Authority bills through the legislature, even as political fallout from the Right to Work controversy threatened to derail it.

“This is one of the governor’s highest priorities,” Snyder’s senior policy advisor, Bill Rustem, told members of a key legislative committee days before its passage. “You need to know that. We need to get this done.” Kolb praised Snyder and the Trans4M coalition for moving the issue forward.

“Michiganders wanting better transportation options have for too long felt like Charlie Brown—always getting the football yanked away at the last minute,” said Kolb, who served as state representative from the 53rd District from 2001 to 2006. “It feels good to finally kick one through the uprights.”
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
RELATED TOPICS: transportation policy
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