County board chair says regional transit could be key for 2016

By: Thomas Franz | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published January 6, 2016

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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MACOMB COUNTY — A plan for regional transit could be one of the big ticket items to pay attention to in 2016, according to Macomb County Board of Commissioners Chair David Flynn, D-Sterling Heights.

“Everything should be on the table,” Flynn said as it pertains to discussions for a regional transit system.

After seeing the success of regional efforts with the Detroit Zoo, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Cobo Authority, Flynn said there needs to be a “laser-like” focus on regional mass transit in 2016.

“It’s past time that we put together a coordinated system that connects our communities, economies and cultural assets to one another,” Flynn said. “The regional transit authority has an opportunity this November to place something on the ballot for voters to decide. I hope they put something that is a product that people who use or don’t use transit will find it beneficial to our region as a whole.”

What that system may look like, Flynn said, could resemble rolling rapid transit systems used in Denver, Atlanta and Portland, among others. While describing it as “light rail on wheels” Flynn said the rapid bus system would have dedicated lanes with elevated stops. Traffic lights would cater to the transit vehicles.

It would differ from SMART buses as well as the M-1 rail project being constructed in Detroit. Flynn noted that rolling rapid transit is less expensive than light rail.

Flynn added that while the system should include main thoroughfares such as Gratiot Avenue, M-59 and Woodward Avenue, as well as connections with Metro Airport and Washtenaw County, there must be connectors to local areas as well.

“Transit doesn’t only exist along major thoroughfares. We need to ensure there’s a robust arterial system that connects where people actually live in neighborhoods to those major corridors, so they can get from place A to place B,” Flynn said.

To be formally put into action, a plan would have to be approved by voters in this year’s general election. 

Flynn said the regional transit authority has met with the Board of Commissioners three times recently, and it expects to meet with the board again early in the new year.

In other key items for 2016, the general election also means that every county commissioner seat will be up for grabs again. The filing deadline for candidates is in April, and each candidate must run in the August primary election.

Aside from transit and an election year, Flynn said the county board will continue to look at how it provides access to services for aging and diverse populations.

For aging populations, that work could include creating more efficiency in programs like Meals-on-Wheels, and ensuring that programs are being brought up to scale to meet increasing population demands.

Flynn added that the county has an opportunity to also enhance services for its diverse population.

“I think we need to continue to monitor regional migration and international immigration, and look how we can accommodate those residents into Macomb County and make sure they have equal access to the same services that we do,” Flynn said.

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