Regional dreams for a mass transit system in Metro Detroit took a large step toward becoming reality Tuesday.
The Michigan Senate approved a package of bills that would create a new regional transit authority for Southeastern Michigan, as well as allow it to operate its own transit system. The new authority, if established, would include the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. Earlier this month the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners wrote a resolution that opposed the county's inclusion in transit authority legislation and stated that the question of whether the Washtenaw should be part of the body should be left up to voters.
Initial routes may include a Woodward corridor connecting Birmingham and the city of Detroit; a Gratiot corridor stretching between Mt. Clemens and the Motor City, a northern line that connects Troy and Mt. Clemens, as well as a western line between Detroit and Ann Arbor that would service Dearborn, Detroit Metro Airport and the city of Ypsilanti.
The authority would not merge DDOT and SMART, the Detroit and suburban bus systems, but would allow for oversight of both and the elimination of duplicate routes, according to the Detroit News.
Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) was a principal sponsor of the legislation package, along with Thomas Casperson (R-Escanaba), Michael Kowall (R-White Lake) and Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor).
"We are finally moving forward as a region and a state by taking this step toward the creation of an RTA," Johnson said in a statement. "After decades of stalled attempts, characterized by bitter partisanship and territorial disputes, I am pleased to say we are closer than ever to achieving the goal of building a functional mass transit system, competing for federal transit dollars and bringing southeastern Michigan into the 21st Century."
According to the Detroit Free Press, there have been 23 previous legislative attempts to create an RTA, which now would still need to pass in the state House of Representatives.
Southeastern Michigan is the sole holdout among the 41 largest metropolitan regions in the nation to create a serviceable regional transit authority. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that an RTA must be in place before developers of the M-1 Woodward Avenue light rail line can qualify for $25 million in federal funding.
In a statement sent to The Huffington Post earlier this year LaHood said establishing an authority would be an important step towards fixing Southeast Michigan's transportation woes.
"If fully funded, an RTA will eventually bring the many struggling transit agencies serving greater-Detroit into one system that will be more efficient, more reliable, and be more responsive to the needs of the people throughout the region," he said.