Rapid bus transit proposal master plan to be released soon

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 18, 2016

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — The Regional Transit Authority is dotting its I’s and crossing its T’s when it comes to a transit overhaul in major Michigan regions, including locally. 

The authority, or RTA, has recently been increasing its public presence to discuss plans to renovate the Gratiot Avenue corridor, as well as connect cities like Ann Arbor to the metro Detroit area.

Presentations to city councils and local government boards have taken place in different cities and townships. The RTA delivered a presentation to Clinton Township’s Board of Trustees on Nov. 16 of last year, and representatives returned April 25 to provide updates on the situation.

The PowerPoint presentation was delivered by Brad Strader, a senior associate for MKSK, a consulting agency hired by the RTA. He said the goal is to connect Washtenaw County to the tri-county area through an effort that is economically and environmentally feasible.

Plans describe how bus rapid transit would connect Ann Arbor, Mount Clemens and Pontiac to downtown Detroit. The use of buses rather than light rail is due to being cheaper and more flexible, Strader said.

Other facets of the proposal include preboarding tickets; faster boarding with the use of raised platforms, and involving fewer steps to maintain better efficiency; stations with real-time weather reports to better inform citizens; and priority at traffic signals.

The bus transit system would utilize 19 stops, down from the original proposed number of 26. All stops would be constructed the same in size.

Expected wait times would be 15 to 20 minutes in nonpeak traveling hours.

The RTA has evaluated its own plan for quite a while, which has involved informing communities on what kind of impact public transit would have. Transportation, operation and maintenance costs, capital costs and ridership are the backbone of the proposal.

For example, Strader mentioned that a timed system utilizing rapid transit would provide more coherent results when traveling. Now, he said, it’s hard to gauge vehicle travel on expressways like I-94 because traffic times seem to fluctuate daily based on different factors.

The capital cost for transit on Gratiot Avenue would be an estimated $255 million, Strader said. The annual operating cost would be about $17.5 million, which would involve transporting about 13,000 people per day.

As the plan details, there would be transit available to take individuals from M-59 all the way to Detroit. Strader said the expected bus travel time in such a scenario would be about 52 to 56 minutes — nearly identical to the time one would spend traveling the same distance in an automobile.

Also, SMART buses would be predicted to run in between the transit vehicles, probably through the implementation of rerouting.

The RTA’s tagline of being rapid, reliable and regional has enthralled some, including Township Treasurer Bill Sowerby.

“I’ve been a proponent of transportation for a long time,” said Sowerby, who has served on SMART boards. “I learned a lot about what the public wanted.”

But Sowerby has his concerns. Notably, he wonders how the RTA would convince the public to approve a millage vote that could come this year. Nothing is official yet.

“It’s all about perceptions and who’s getting what and why,” he said.

RTA CEO Michael Ford said the plan is being laid out as a whole, and that additional services will be included in the future. He also said a millage vote would be beneficial to communities due to a minimum of 85 percent of infrastructure costs staying within a community.

Focus on the elderly and disabled plays a role as well.

“It will be a very robust opportunity to more people in the four-county region,” Ford said. “The foundation of the master plan is to get people to and from jobs. … It’s a major component and we’ll make sure to get more people where they need to go.”

In response to Sowerby’s point of how to convince people to vote for a millage this fall, Ford said thriving metro areas have similar transit options. The cost for this region is also smaller when compared to other bigger cities, such as Chicago or Cleveland.

It’s all about selling the proposal with clarity and properly explaining the needs of the residents in the different communities, Ford said. He expressed the point of how millennials are more apt to approve of such public transportation due to not wanting to drive cars as often, sometimes due to inflated insurance costs.

“Things have changed to where people want to be where the density is,” Ford said.

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