Gratiot Ave. overhaul could be on 2016 ballot

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 16, 2015

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Gratiot Avenue is a staple of metro Detroit, traversed by thousands every day.

With a new era of technological advancement ongoing, one group is trying to facilitate a process that will overhaul the roadway and offer better modes of transportation for both residents and visitors.

That group is the Regional Transit Authority, or RTA, of southeast Michigan, which gave a presentation during Clinton Township’s Nov. 16 Board of Trustees meeting. The presentation, titled “BEST: Gratiot Avenue,” was a means of informing township officials and residents of the RTA’s hope to connect different counties and communities.

Gratiot Avenue is a 23-mile corridor that is traversed by individuals via automobile or via bus transportation. The road, also known as M-3, is a main north-south connector in the metro area. The north end is located near New Baltimore in Macomb County, while the south end exists in downtown Detroit — between Jefferson Avenue and Randolph Street, close to the U.S.-Canada border and the Renaissance Center.

Its existence dates back to the early 19th century.

The RTA has elevated its presentation schedule in the form of 100-plus meetings in the past year — through public meetings, social media and Macomb Area Communities for Regional Opportunities meetings — in an effort to inform local and county governments and citizens of its hope to install a rapid transit system on the corridor.

Such a system is bus-based and has features similar to that of light rails but it tends to be more flexible, costs less and presents a more simple design. It’s almost like an above-ground subway.

Designs can be manipulated to best serve a particular community. For example, the middle of the Gratiot corridor could be designed to have rails running north and south while the sides of the roadway stay clear. On the flip side, the system could run north and south while being on opposite sides of the roadway.

As explained during the presentation by RTA CEO Michael Ford, the current focus is on Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. In addition to Gratiot, other studies are being done on Michigan and Woodward avenues.

“Our job is to really connect the region together,” Ford said.

Supervisor Bob Cannon, who regularly attends Southeast Michigan Council of Government, or SEMCOG, meetings, said the rapid stretch of bus transit has been discussed quite a bit over the years. Though, the succinct presentation was a way for the board and residents to learn more about the prospect of improved transportation so close to home.

He referred to cities, like Cleveland, that already use such systems. Cannon said areas with great transportation offerings have prospered and have led to economic development — not just for retail, but also for housing. It’s good for communities and the people who live in them, he added.

“Theoretically, we’d be able to get on a bus and rapidly get to Detroit and rapidly get to the airport,” Cannon said. “Or, go to (Detroit Metropolitan Airport) and go to Ann Arbor. I’ve been to other cities and it’s phenomenal; it breeds economic development like you cannot believe.”

He said the transit system would only work if there are destinations on a regional scale, such as the aforementioned airport. He puts the ball in the RTA’s court, saying they “will make or break” how well the proposal is received based on identifying cost, length of construction and who it will benefit.

“It’s just a matter of disseminating the information,” he said.

Cannon has no concerns about such a drastic overhaul of one of Michigan’s famed roadways. He realized the challenge and opportunity 15 years ago, when the corridor already had strong businesses — like car dealerships — lining the sides.

“In 2000, when I was first elected supervisor, I knew Gratiot Avenue needed mental work, physical work. It was a mess,” Cannon said. “The grass was growing (high), there were weeds and it needed new lighting. It’s one of the great corridors in all of Michigan, really.

“(A new transportation system is) by far one of the best things that can happen to Macomb County, Detroit and southeast Michigan. I’m fine with that because it will change the way we go about getting places.”

The goal is to accumulate numbers in early 2016, just as a means of gauging cost and interest. Ford mentioned during the presentation that a regional master plan is a major step moving forward, along with resolving funding.

If on the ballot in 2016, residents will vote to either pass or reject the measure.

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