Local officials concerned with transit plans

No decisions made yet for bus rapid transit alignment

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 16, 2016

 Eastpointe officials are concerned about a center running median.

Eastpointe officials are concerned about a center running median.

Graphic provided by RTA

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EASTPOINTE — Members of the Eastpointe City Council during its meeting Feb. 2 expressed discomfort with one of the proposals for the Regional Transit Authority plan for Gratiot Avenue.

Mayor Suzanne Pixley said that she had been attending some of the planning meetings the RTA has hosted in recent weeks about adding a “bus rapid transit,” or BRT, system along Gratiot, from downtown Detroit to Mount Clemens. The BRT would operate similarly to a local train or subway line in cities like Chicago or New York, but instead use heavy-duty buses traveling along the road in shared lanes or specially designated ones along — or inside — the median.

Pixley said the proposal to put the BRT line in the median is a big concern for her from an infrastructure standpoint. Eastpointe has sewer, electrical and gas lines running underground along the Gratiot median.

“There are very few people appointed (to the advisory committee) from the four cities along the RTA route,” Pixley said. “We’re going to go and plead our case, because the electrical system and water supply is under the median, and whether that means we have to move it or the RTA has to move it, (it’s an issue).”

City Manager Steve Duchane said the city’s water line pressure release valve was installed only a few years ago under Gratiot and possibly would need to be moved. The valve is designed to help reduce the number of water main breaks in the winter months by controlling water pressure coming into the city.

AT&T’s main lines also run underground along the Gratiot median, Duchane said, and even if those were moved, they would still need to be placed somewhere else.

“They also mentioned at the meeting about having 250 park-and-ride spaces in the (downtown development district) alone,” Duchane said. “I must have vision problems, because I can’t find that many parking spaces.

“And this is what we know in the 2 miles of Eastpointe. I don’t know that Detroit knows what is under the median and turn lane all the way downtown,” he added.

Duchane said he did not want to be a naysayer, but that there are “tremendous assumptions” about the usage of public and private property to make it happen. He believes the project could end up taking seven to 10 years to be completed.

Pixley said that the water lines are about 28 feet underground, with the power lines about 10 feet down. Even if those lines go undisturbed by the construction of a BRT lane and stations, she said it would still create an accessibility problem when there are issues.

Travis Gonyou, spokesman with the RTA, said that at the present time, the Gratiot corridor team is still considering all options for the route: having a BRT run in the median, in the left lanes alongside the median, or in the rightmost lanes.

“We do not have a preferred alternative right now,” Gonyou said. “The next step in the process will be in late March to come out with a recommendation to the public, and to get feedback on what we propose to them — if that is the best alignment.”

Gonyou said they had heard some talk on underground infrastructure access, but that at this time, the RTA does not foresee any issues with accessibility, regardless of which alignment for the BRT ultimately gets selected.

Pixley also balked at the proposed idea of keeping Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) and Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses operating along Gratiot at the same time, rather than repurposing those buses to improve local neighborhood transportation. She said her initial understanding about the creation of the RTA was that those services would be combined — along with Washtenaw County’s bus service — into something more coordinated.

Any proposals would still need to be approved by the public before any rapid transit routes would be installed. The RTA is hoping to determine how much the transit network would cost to build and maintain in time to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

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