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Wayne and Washtenaw leaders to pursue mass transit plan, with or without Macomb and Oakland

flickr user Matt Picio
The new plan would likely focus on improving the bus system in addition to creating new transit, like light rails.

At one point, it appeared the leaders of Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties, along with the city of Detroit, were on their way to supporting a ballot proposal this fall for a regional mass transit plan.

That got derailed when the county executives in Oakland and Macomb distanced themselves from the plan.

Everyone seems to agree a four county effort would be ideal, but is probably unlikely at this point.

“I certainly wouldn’t bet the family farm on it right now,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

So, are they going to drop transit for the time being? Maybe not.

Wayne County and Washtenaw County are still talking about transit improvements from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti to Dearborn and into Detroit.

Evans and Andy LaBarre, Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, sat down with Stateside to discuss the future of a regional transit plan.

Listen to the full interview above, or read highlights below.

On Macomb and Oakland counties opting out of a regional transit plan

One complaint by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is a concern about return on investment. But Evans said that’s disingenuous.

“A requirement built in [the plan] is that 85 percent of the dollars from each county are reinvested in that county,” said Evans.

“I’m in complete agreement,” said LaBarre. And as to Hackel’s suggestion that driverless cars will make transit investment pointless, LaBarre added, “What we need is something that helps people in a one- and five- and ten-year span here, and not a twenty, thirty potential.”

On what a Detroit/Washtenaw/Wayne mass transit system might look like

Whatever the plan looks like will be dollar-driven, said Evans, which changes the kind of investments the counties can make. But they do have some priorities in mind.

“I think very strongly the link between Detroit and Ann Arbor is a huge piece of it. And light rail to the airport I think is something this region significantly needs. And past that, I think that it is short-sighted for the other two counties not to understand the regional value, even if it’s not something they’re getting on today.”

LaBarre believes light rail would be the crown jewel of the plan.

“But people should also remember you have potential for expanded bus service through northeastern Washtenaw into Canton, along essentially the 94-corridor, south down to the airport. And within the various counties, in terms of expanded services. So there’s a lot of potential.”

On convincing people to invest in transit when the roads are already bad

“It’s not a mutually exclusive proposition,” said LaBarre. “You have to do both.”

As long as the legislature insists that they can’t invest in infrastructure, he explained, “it’s going to take citizens and civic leadership to say, ‘Do your job, fix the roads, and we’ll do our part.’”

Stateside also reached out to Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. His office expressed interest in joining us for an interview. We offered Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson an interview as well. His office did not get back to us.

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