Longtime environmental ally completes time with RTA
On Thursday, May 18, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan announced the departure of board chair Paul Hillegonds, a longtime environmental ally, as he closes out his term.
Formation of the RTA had been a longtime environmental priority by the time Hillegonds assumed the role of Speaker of the Michigan House (R-Allegan) in the mid 1990s. The Legislature tried and failed more than 20 times to adopt legislation enabling the regional authority. Hillegonds’ legislative career would end without a victory, but it would stay a priority for him, and when regional and state leaders finally agreed on a structure in 2012, Hillegonds was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to be its chair.
Over the last decade under his leadership, the RTA significantly expanded mobility options in the region, adopting the first four-county transit plan and launching a host of intercounty services, including express bus service along Woodward and Gratiot as well as express commuter service between Ann Arbor and Detroit.
Conan Smith is the President and CEO of the Michigan Environmental Council and in 2012 served as chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners where he appointed two members of the original RTA board.
“Paul was an extraordinary first board chair for the RTA," he said. "In a region fraught with volatile politics, he was the steadiest hand anyone could ask for: trusted by government leaders on both sides of the aisle and always welcoming and available to environmental nonprofits like the Environmental Council and community members. We are incredibly grateful for Paul’s service and commitment to enhancing the mobility options for metro Detroiters. He leaves a strong foundation to build on and a legacy that is testament to the power of effective regional leadership.”
As the RTA welcomes David Massaron as the new chair of the board, the Environmental Council hopes to see similar leadership driving the RTA to expand and improve transit services in southeast Michigan.
“Dave is a stellar successor to Paul,” said Smith. “He loves the region and has proven his commitment to its success through years of public service. He’s also a very savvy manager who, I believe, can help take the RTA to the next level.”
The Environment Council noted that the metropolitan area is going to need a renewed focus on mobility options as climate migration, environmental, and economic pressures increase.
Ross Gavin is the director of urban land use and infrastructure of the Michigan Environmental Council.
“We need a new, more nimble mobility system that provides diverse options for people of all ages and socioeconomic statuses," he said. "We hope to see the RTA secure increased state and federal funding, achieve a successful ballot campaign, and build out more frequent, reliable bus services, including rapid transit expansion. The time is now to get creative with mobility.”
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