Sterling chamber, residents opine on RTA transit proposal

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 1, 2016

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Local businesses and residents are weighing in on the debate over mass transit as the countdown to a public vote on an upcoming millage continues.

In late September, the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s board of directors voted to advocate a “yes” vote on a millage proposal that comes courtesy of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.

If it passes at the polls Nov. 8, the proposal would levy 1.2 mills for 20 years, thus costing $120 annually to a taxpayer owning a home with an assessed value of $100,000.

If the plan passes, the raised tax money combined with matching funds would implement an estimated $4.7 billion plan to build a public transportation network largely composed of busing options, including rapid transit buses, within Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Special amenities are promised for seniors, people with disabilities and airport users, according to backers. A regional rail system would link Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Chamber President and CEO Melanie Davis said the chamber believes that, over a 20-year period, the RTA proposal would support more than 14,000 county jobs, produce more than $1 billion in personal income growth and produce approximately $1.14 billion in gross regional product.

She said most workers who use the bus can’t get to work in under an hour, and employers ranging from hospitals to manufacturers are eager for better transportation solutions. One proposed solution is “commuter express” service that would send limited-stop buses through the M-59 corridor on a path that stretches from Pontiac to Mount Clemens, she said.

Davis also touted proposed cross-county connector routes that could reduce wait times for people traveling through different counties, adding that these would be set up along 12 Mile Road, 15 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue. Extended local bus service promises to bring public transportation to places such as Canal Road and Groesbeck Highway, she said.

“They’re trying to make it a seamless system,” Davis said.

But not everyone is on board with the mass transit proposal. During an Oct. 18 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, some residents spoke out against the idea.

Sterling Heights resident Jeffrey Norgrove, who also sits on the city’s Planning Commission, criticized the plan, saying it would be “a disaster of major proportion.” He said the Detroit area lacks a high-density population and is not like cities such as New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“We’re an automotive-driven city,” he said. “The Big Three made sure that this metro Detroit area would never have mass transit. … They sold cars to us; they built their factories here so we would drive.”

He also said the initiative would cover M-59 and Gratiot Avenue, but he didn’t see it serving local residents.

“So, essentially, Macomb County is going to be paying everybody else’s weight, for Wayne County and Oakland County, and we’re pretty much going to get nothing back,” he said.

According to Sterling Heights spokeswoman Bridget Doyle, the city of Sterling Heights “has not taken an official position on the RTA proposal.”

Learn more about the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry by visiting www.shrcci.com or by calling (586) 731-5400.

The RTA website can be found at www.rtamichigan.org.

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