A Transit Future for Our Region

The long awaited RTA Master Plan draft was released to the public on May 31st. The intention of the plan is to connect transit service between Washtenaw, Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne counties, enabling ease of travel between the counties and connecting to existing local service.  In addition to connecting major commuter routes across county corridors, the plan contains additional cross-county connectors, which will augment the services already provided by local transit agencies. The newly-released, Plan offers a detailed picture of the components, including bus rapid transit (BRT), paratransit services for seniors and people with disabilities, and commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The plan has several infrastructure components: Bus Rapid Transit, Cross-County Connector Buses, Regional Rail, and airport service.

The first component, Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT,  provides the same benefits as light rail (LRT) at a lower cost per mile. These routes will run along Gratiot Avenue between downtown Detroit and M-59, Michigan Avenue between downtown Detroit and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Washtenaw Avenue between downtown Ann Arbor and downtown Ypsilanti, and Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and Pontiac.There will be dedicated BRT lanes which will alternate between centered and curb-running. Infrastructure improvements including covered stations, pre-board ticketing machines and level boarding platforms akin to stepping onto subway cars are planned, features which would, especially, benefit the elderly and disabled.

The second component of the Master Plan is Regional Commuter Rail. Ann Arbor to Detroit regional rail service will offer the first rapid, reliable connection to regional job centers in Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Stations are expected in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Wayne, Dearborn, and the Detroit New Center Amtrak station.

The third component is the addition of several cross-county connector and commuter express bus lines, allowing transit riders to easily travel from county to county along several newly established or expanded routes.  Cross-county connector lines include 15Mile, 12Mile, 9 Mile, 8 Mile, Grand River, Greenfield, Jefferson, Fort/Eureka, Van Dyke, and Plymouth Roads.  Commuter Express lines will offer limited-stop services to provide new options for people to commute to work.  The express services will include M59 from Pontiac to Mt. Clemens, Ann Arbor/Plymouth/Livonia, Canton-Ann Arbor, and along I-75 from Auburn Hills to Detroit.

The fourth component is the QLINE (M-1 RAIL) streetcar, slated to open in 2017. The QLINE will run approximately 3.3 miles along Woodward Ave in downtown Detroit.

Two additional goals of the plan are to expand ADA paratransit and senior transportation services and offer a wider range of travel options for Southeast Michigan, especially for those who cannot use or do not have access to the fixed-route network.

As for the existing transit services provided by AAATA, DTC, DDOT and SMART: these  will serve as the foundation of a new regional transit system. All services will continue operating and will provide imperative connections within the new network as necessary.

The plan currently has a price tag of approximately $4.6 billion. It will be financed, in part,  by a voter-approved $1.2 million, 20-year property tax millage. The millage translates to an $1.20 increase in property tax for every $1,000 of assessed value of a home. Meaning, homes that are assessed at $100,000 would incur an additional $120 per year in property taxes. This new millage would be in addition to those already in existence in areas served by SMART and the AAATA.

The economic benefits of the plan are large. The new RTA plan will bring increased connectivity and economic development to the Southeast Michigan area. The RTA estimates that over the next 20 years, the plan will have a $6 billion economic development impact, directly support 67,844 new jobs (approximately 3,500 jobs per year), and growth in real personal income by $4.4 billion (in USD, 2015) Statewide benefits are predicted at 72,941 jobs supported, $6.4 billion (in 2015$) added in gross regional product, and approximately $5.3 billion (in 2015$) growth in real personal income.  

Looking forward, we can expect to see the Master Plan formally approved by the RTA board at the board’s meeting on July 21. In November, voters in the 4-county RTA region will decide on whether or not to pass the $1.2 million, 20-year property tax millage to pay for the changes in the plan. If the millage is passed, work will commence in 2017.

Published on June 29, 2016