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Southeast Michigan residents: here's what to know about your transportation ballot proposal

Map showing the top 100 travel patterns based on trips taken in 2010.
RTA of Southeast Michigan
Map showing the top 100 travel patterns based on trips taken in 2010.

In the November election, voters in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties must vote on whether to approve a tax that would fund new transportation between the four counties. 

When you walk into the voting booth, this is the language you will see on your ballot.

Some of you may already know exactly how you're voting, but for those of you looking for more information about the proposal, we've got you covered.

What transportation is being proposed

Image courtesy Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan

The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan is seeking funding to implement various transportation services in and between these counties.

According to the Regional Master Transit Plan, new transportation efforts would include: 

  • Regional Rail: rail lines intended to connect riders to and from work.
  • Bus Rapid Transit: busses operating in key regional areas. They're essentially busses with added benefits like transit signal priority, limited stops and bus-only lanes. 
  • Commuter Express: weekday rush-hour busses connecting workers to employment centers. 
  • Cross-County Connectors: "regional bus services which will allow people to easily travel through the region." Unlike Bus Rapid Transit, these busses travel in mixed traffic and would be "more reliable than local bus service." 
  • Airport Express: busses connecting residents to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. 
  • Streetcar: a modern, hybrid-electrified rail service connecting downtown Detroit, Midtown and New Center

The services would be designed to supplement current bus service. You can see a map of the proposed transportation lines in the graphic above. 
Additionally, the taxes would fund special transportation services for disabled citizens. 

How much will it cost

Property taxpayers in the four counties will pay $1.20 per every $1,000 of taxable value for 20 years beginning in 2016 and ending in 2035. If your house has a taxable value of $100,000, you'll pay $120 extra per year in property taxes.

Why is it being proposed

"Until 2012 Southeast Michigan lacked a central agency to coordinate transit throughout the region." reads the introduction of the Regional Master Transit Plan for Southeast Michigan. The RTA was created, in part, to identify and implement new transportation mechanisms. 

Following various outreach and engagement efforts, the RTA identified suggested areas to improve transportation and created the plans outlined in the proposal to do so. 

Was there controversy around the proposal, what was it and has it been solved?

Yes, there was controversy, and yes, it was resolved. 

The proposal faced initial backlash in late July from Oakland and Macomb county's executives Brooks Patterson and Mark Hackel, respectively. Both were concerned about taxes from their counties disproportionately helping counties that aren't their own. 

“I cannot in good conscience support the current plan which spends over $1.3 billion of Oakland County taxpayers’ dollars over 20 years but only gives our businesses, workforce, and residents a fraction of that back in transit services,” Patterson said.

Some of Oakland's requests included:

  • Demonstrating and implementing the "85 percent rule" which guarantees 85% of collected taxes from a county go to transit in that county.
  • Demonstrating how the plan will avoid negative impact on SMART: Michigan's only regional public transportation provider

  • Establishing a binding mechanism to guarantee each jurisdiction will receive respective benefits that cannot be overturned by a majority RTA Board vote.

However, following a meeting discussing the controversy, a compromise was reached and the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority board unanimously approved the proposal, according to Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek

... following some hasty, closed-door negotiations between regional leaders, the board made some last-minute changes to satisfy the concerns of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

The resulting negotiation gave each county and the city of Detroit veto power in the decision-making process.

"I am satisfied that the accord we reached today not only offers something for our 40 communities and over half a million residents previously left out of the transit plan, but also incorporates the necessary protections we were seeking for Oakland County taxpayers," Patterson said in a statement

The plan still has its critics. Leon Drolet, with the group nomassivetransittax.org, put out a press release saying there are severe flaws in the plan.

More from Eric Lawrence of the Detroit Free Press:

A spokesman for a group opposing the proposed regional transit millage for southeast Michigan is seizing on a report from a top official in the administration of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson to raise questions about the transit master plan and the tax that would support it.

You can read more about that report here.

Those interested in learning more about the regional transit plan can watch a video produced by the RTA below:

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