Why does Southeast Michigan need a regional transportation system? It’s about people – people who need healthcare options. People who are underemployed who want to work to their potential. It’s about providing opportunity to people of every race, age, gender, economic level.
Ultimately, according to the business, governmental and non-profit leaders who gathered Wednesday morning at the Mackinac Policy Conference, it’s about connecting communities in a real and substantial way within Wayne, Macomb, Washtenaw and Oakland counties.
Leaders from M-1 Rail, United Way for Southeast Michigan, Beaumont Health and more gathered a day after the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan unveiled its comprehensive master plan of a robust regional transit system, lending their diverse perspectives and expertise to showcase the critical need for connected rapid, reliable regional transit.
The RTA Master Plan, in the works for more than a year after robust public engagement and data-driven planning and analysis, is designed to create a wide-ranging regional transit network connecting residents, communities and businesses of Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The plan covers 20 years, but the majority of the plan is slated to be complete in the first five years, including one rapid transit line and regional rail service, with the other rapid transit lines complete within 10 years. The master plan would build upon, supplement and connect service now being offered by the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority (AAATA/TheRide) and the Detroit People Mover.
As RTA Board of Directors Chairman Paul Hillegonds pointed out, Southeast Michigan is the only major urban area in the country without a transit network that effectively connects its counties and communities.
“This plan provides a cost-effective, achievable framework that will finally connect people to jobs, opportunities, services and entertainment options, spur economic development and growth, attract and retain young talent, provide greater independence for seniors and people with disabilities, and improve overall quality of life in Southeast Michigan,” Hillegonds said.
The Detroit Regional Chamber has advocated for robust and effective regional transit for more than 25 years. Finally, with the effort now underway, the region is on the cusp of this goal. As Chamber president and CEO Sandy Baruah said: “Economic growth requires that people have the opportunity to make money and spend money, and that means moving people from point A to point B in an efficient fashion. Too many people in our region lack the transportation options that allow full participation in the economy. Beyond the economic issues, effective regional transit addresses some very real human issues. Our region needs to provide citizens the ability to get to medical appointments, visit grandkids and get to the grocery store.”
A survey of 350 national CEOs ranked transit near the top of qualities that matter when considering locations. And studies show than 90 percent of the jobs in our region cannot be reached within 60 minutes using existing transit services.
“Economic development and reliable regional transit go hand-in-hand,” said Matt Cullen, president & CEO of Rock Ventures. “Businesses want to locate in areas with connected transit that enables employees to easily and reliably get to work and allows customers easy access. Southeast Michigan’s disconnected transit system is holding the region back.”
Oakland County’s largest employer, Beaumont Health, sees first-hand the challenges of a disconnected and underfunded regional transit system because their eight hospitals and 168 outpatient sites span three counties and dozens of the region’s most populated communities.
“A connected, coordinated regional transit system will help our employees get to work, help our patients get to the high quality care they need and deserve, and provide great career opportunities to people throughout the region who rely on public transportation, boosting our local economy,” said Carolyn Wilson, COO of Beaumont Health.