Local state representative rolls out RTA opt-out language

By: Sarah Wojcik, | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 26, 2016

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On Sept. 13, state Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, introduced legislation to allow local municipalities to opt out of the Regional Transit Authority Act, which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

If approved, the RTA would add high-speed transportation to Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. The 1.2-mill property tax assessment is set to levy approximately $3 billion over 20 years and combine with $1.7 billion in federal and state matching funds to create rapid bus and rail lines and cover operational costs.

Lucido spoke before the Oct. 18 Shelby Township Board of Trustees meeting to urge residents to thoroughly consider how the proposal would affect them and vote accordingly.

 Peter Lucido

Peter Lucido

“The leaders of our cities, villages and townships know what’s best for their communities, not Lansing,” Lucido said. “We need to dedicate our financial resources to improving the roads and infrastructure in Michigan, not collecting more taxes from property owners for an RTA which will still have residents driving 15 minutes to get to a hub.”

He said the initiative would begin with buses, followed by rail cars. A lane would be designated to the sole operation of RTA buses on main thoroughfares, such as Woodward and Gratiot avenues, he said.

“(This bill) would give us a chance to put a law into place as a stopgap, at least at a minimum to make an argument,” Lucido said. “(It would) allow us to opt out if we find that we feel it’s too expensive or it’s not necessary.”

The 1.2-mill property tax would cost $120 for residents in $100,000 homes annually for 20 years, or approximately $7.92 per month for the average home in southeast Michigan, according to an RTA press release.

“I truly believe that we needed a Regional Transit Authority years ago when we first mapped out the master plan and how it’s all going to connect,” Lucido said. “I do believe that there’s a lot of individuals, like seniors and the disabled, that would benefit from something like this. But the representation that I have is the northern end of this county (away from key transportation corridors).”

Shelby Township resident Arnold Schultes voiced his disapproval of the RTA millage proposal at the Oct. 18 Board of Trustees meeting.

“If this project of bailing out Detroit does not stop, you guys are going to drive me right into the poorhouse with all the other retirees in the southeast region of Michigan,” he said. “It takes five years to get the transit project up and running, but when it is, it will be obsolete.”

Tiffany Gunter, RTA deputy CEO and COO, said she was familiar with Lucido’s proposed legislation, but that Public Act 387 of 2012, which enabled the RTA, identifies five members: Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties, and the city of Detroit.

“Individual cities are not necessarily members of the RTA,” Gunter said. “If (Lucido’s) legislation were to move forward … those (individual) entities cannot elect to not participate, because they are not seen as a direct member.”

She said the RTA would offer a number of parking hub options in the northern portion of Macomb County.

Such landing spots include near Canal Road in Utica, which would connect Utica to Mount Clemens and travel through Clinton Township. A cross-county connector service would span from Gratiot Avenue in Detroit to Van Dyke Avenue, near 23 Mile Road, in Shelby Township. An M-59 commuter express would have stops at Somerset Collection, Pontiac, and major job and employment centers. An airport express service would allow users to park at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights and travel directly to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Gunter said the RTA is working on “flexible transit,” a grant program to help communities without connection points to the regional network.

She said the RTA also recognizes how ride-sharing services, such as Uber, Lyft and Detroit-based SPLT, complement the transit system, and the RTA is looking into working with them to creatively meet demands not met with a fixed-route transit service.

“This plan keeps the transit we have now, creates greater efficiency and introduces premium transit options for the first time in our region,” said RTA CEO Michael Ford in a statement. “It provides coordination and regional connections to provide a seamless network that connects people to jobs, to health care, to education and to opportunity. This plan moves our region light years ahead and makes us competitive with the rest of the nation.”

On Sept. 13, House Bill 5869 was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Lucido serves the 36th District, which covers Bruce Township, Washington Township, and parts of Shelby Township and the village of Romeo.

For more information about Lucido’s proposed legislation, call (517) 373-0843 or email peterluci do@house.mi.gov. For more information about the Regional Transit Authority, call (313) 402-1020 or visit www.rtamichigan.org.