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Hackel on regional transit efforts: Macomb voters "don't want this thing"

A SMART bus.
SMART buses currently serve parts of suburban Detroit and the city.

At one point, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was a big proponentof the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority, and its potential to coordinate and boost the region’s lackluster, fragmented transit systems.

But Hackel now seems to have soured on the prospect of more and better transit, and on the RTA itself, just as Wayne County is making a push to put a transit millage before voters in November.

Last week, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans presented the RTA board with a 20-year, $5.4 billion plan to improve and expand bus service, provide bus service to Detroit Metro Airport, and link Detroit and Ann Arbor by commuter rail.

But Hackel said this week that Macomb voters already spoke when they overwhelmingly rejected another transit millage proposal in 2016, and are once again reasonably suspicious that this plan will benefit other parts of the region at Macomb’s expense.

“Once again, people are saying ‘Wait a minute, is this really an ask for regional transit, or is it an ask for some other reason?” Hackel said. “What is the real purpose of the RTA? Is it really to get people to move around in the area, to get people to and from jobs? We can solve that problem at a fraction of the cost with SMART [current regional suburban bus system] if that’s really what the need is.”

“Everybody wants to continue to try to figure out how they force this RTA thing on the voters of Macomb County, when they’ve already been very, very vocal in saying 'No, we don’t want this thing.'”

Hackel says any RTA plan is driven by the needs of Detroit residents and business interests, and questioned why Wayne and Washtenaw counties don’t form their own partnership to expand transit options. He says Macomb County has other priorities, including fixing crumbling roads.

“Let’s figure out how we fix this roads problem first, and then we can start talking about whatever priority Detroit has,” he said. “Detroit has a priority, and it’s trying to figure out how do they get the funding from the RTA.”

Hackel’s remarks echo the sentimentsof Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who also denounced the latest transit proposal as scheme to tax unwilling Oakland County residents for services that would mainly benefit other parts of the region.

The RTA is made up of representatives from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties, and the city of Detroit. When it was created by a new state law in 2012, it was touted as an example of a new spirit of regionalism in metro Detroit, with support from all the major regional leaders.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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