Wayne County, Mich., makes move on transit plan

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CHICAGO -- The county executive of Wayne County, Mich., unveiled a proposed $5.4 billion, 20-year transit package Thursday, which would be funded with a four-county property tax levy despite a lack of support from several counties.

Warren Evans pitched the draft “Connect Southeast Michigan" plan for the first time at a meeting of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. He wants to get the plan on the November ballot.

"We've been debating transit for decades and I think voters deserve an opportunity to see this proposed solution,” Evans said in a statement. “If they vote it down, they vote it down, but I can't see the rationale of why wouldn't let them consider it."

It relies on a 1.5 mill property tax levy on Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb Counties at an average annual cost of $118 per household. It would raise an estimated $5.4 billion over 20 years to fund expanded regional transit service and plan forward flexible transit innovations as technology changes the transportation and mobility industries. It would additionally leverage $1.3 billion in farebox, state and federal revenues, Evans said.

Oakland and Macomb pulled their support for a previous plan and their position had not appeared to change with the Thursday announcement. Washtenaw recently said it would work with Wayne County and Detroit on a plan.

The plan is larger than one floated in 2016 that was rejected by voters. The $4.6 billion Regional Transit Authority millage request failed 50.5% to 49.5%. While Washtenaw and Wayne counties favored the millage, Oakland County voters were split and Macomb County rejected it.

The new plan provides more service in a broader area than the 2016 proposal. It calls for new bus routes connecting job centers, increased service on existing lines, improved service to regional airports, expanded commuter rail service, and infrastructure work that supports transit. Under statute, 85% of tax revenue generated in an individual county would have to be spent there.

“We are letting some of our federal tax dollars go to pave a road somewhere else or fund transit somewhere else in the country because we don't have a regional plan. It just doesn't make sense," said Evans.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan endorsed the plan. “Residents of all four counties deserve an opportunity to vote on it this fall,” he said.

Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson has previously said he opposes asking voters across all of Oakland County to help fund a regional mass transit system that would force communities into a millage vote against their will. Macomb County board of commissioners have called for a resolution that focuses on upgrading existing roads instead of working on a regional transportation system.

Several RTA board members praised the new Evans proposal and the agency will seek public input, but counties opposed to it could try to block putting it to voters.

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