Live Blog: Regional Transit Authority's Inaugural Meeting

April 10, 2013, 5:01 PM

5:01 PM: And the meeting is adjourned -- the next one is April 24. Thanks to everyone who followed along. Later.

4:59 PM: A SMART bus travels around Campus Martius Park as seen from SEMCOG's office on the 14 floor of 1001 Woodward, where metro Detroit's regional transit authority held its first meeting.

4:50 PM: Want a say in this? Details about the Citizens Advisory Committee should be available online in a few days. The RTA website currently lives within the SEMCOG website, but the RTA plans to have their own site built shortly.

4:39 PM: The RTA is discussing the scheduling of future meetings. An idea was floated to hold them, on a rotating basis, at local community colleges.  "I would like that if we were the Regional Authority on Community Colleges," quipped Matthew Wirgau, an Oakland County representative. He instead suggested the meetings be held at transit facilities around the region. "It would be an opportunity to see transit first-hand." The crowd goes wild (they applaud mildly). Paul Hillegonds said he agreed and suggested SEMCOG staff help make the arrangements.

Hillegonds also said the RTA has as a goal to hold evening meetings because they're more convenient for the general public. However, because they need to formally schedule the next meeting, the RTA scheduled its next meeting for April 24th at 2:00 PM at Wayne County Community College. Future meetings time/location is TBD.

4:31 PM Miller Canfield will represent the RTA. The firm will donate "significant" pro bono time toward representing the body. SEMCOG, which is also represented by Miller Canfield, will also help offset some of the authority's legal costs. The full body authorized the RTA executive committee to negotiate the final details of the engagement contract.

4:26 PM: "There's got to be some benefit from being the last place in the country to do this," notes Transportation Riders United's Megan Owens. She asked the RTA to find the best national candidate to serve as the RTA executive director and to learn from the successes and failures of other transit systems across the country.

4:22 PM: Better Know An RTA Director: Dr. Curtis Ivery, chancellor of Wayne County Community College, and Mark Gaffney, former chairman of the Michigan AFL-CIO, represent Wayne County on the RTA. Richard Murphy, who works for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and is a former Ypsilanti city planner, and Elisabeth Gerber, is a public policy professor at the University of Michigan's Gerald Ford School represent Washtenaw County on the RTA.

4:16 PM: A 20-something public commenter that works with MOSES, a metro area community organizing group, makes a great point. A lot of his friends still live at home in large part because the high cost of car ownership in Michigan takes up a too large piece of their monthly budget. Better transit means a better metro Detroit for college students and other young people. And a lot of 50-somethings will get their basements back.

4:14 PM: Tom Choske also gives us the first fun fact and second birthday of the day -- today is the anniversary of the end of prohibition in Detroit. ("Woo hoo!" says an audience member.)

4:13 PM: Tom Choske from Freshwater Railway is addressing the meeting in public comment. Freshwater is a fantastic hypothetical vision for metro Detroit transportation. The RTA would be well-served to listen closely to the ideas and vision these guys have created. - JTW


4:08 PM RTA Chair Paul Hillegonds listens to public comment.

3:58 PM: We're hearing from a number of public commenters six constituents so far that they are concerned the land transfer at the state fairgrounds to Magic Plus LLC, a group that includes Magic Johnson and Joel Ferguson, will be a determent to long-term transit planning. They see the intersection of Eight Mile and Woodward as a critical hub for transit services. Commenters are asking the government and Magic Plus to slow their roll a bit and think about including regional transport and commuter rail on some of the existing nearby rail tracks to expand the site's current status as one of the bigger bus terminals in the city.  "Don't give away land we might have to buy back later," is how one Ferndale resident put it.

3:49 PM: Better Know An RTA Director: Oakland County's RTA representatives include Steven Potter, president of an Auburn Hills law firm. According to the county, Potter has "extensive experience in transportation safety, municipal law and highway liability, including representing the Road Commission for Oakland County." The OC (don't call it that) selected Matthew Wirgau, a former SMART director. He also served in the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Reagan Administration, as its other director. 

3:45 PM: Now we get to meet the guests at the birthday party. It's public comment period! Everyone gets three minutes, fair and square.

This song won't be needed here, but enjoy.

3:27 PM: The RTA cohort has approved a movement to work with SEMCOG in spending the $250,000 appropriation until the RTA is able to set up its own procedures for spending the dough.

3:24 PM: Better Know An RTA Director: Paul Hillegonds, Governor Rick Snyder's appointee to the RTA, is the body's Chairman and probably its biggest name. A former state lawmaker from west Michigan, Hillegonds served as Speaker of the House in Lansing. After he retired from the legislature, he ran Detroit Renaissance and now serves as DTE Energy's vice president for corporate affairs for DTE Energy.

3:20 PM: The RTA is currenlty selecting officers and forming committees.  Hillegonds, as the Governor's appointee, serves at the Chair. Liz Gerber of Washtenaw County will be the Vice Chair. Mark Gaffney of Wayne County is the RTA's secretary.

Balloons always make a birthday party more festive.

3:09 PM: RTA Chair Paul Hillegonds opened the meeting by accepting a birthday card for the RTA from Transportation Riders United. He joked that, though the authority hasn't yet crafted a gifts policy, they'll keep the card.

2:35 PM: Fair warning: This might end up as the most boring liveblog in the history of the Internet. But after nearly 30 years and far too many failed legislative attempts to create a regional transit authority for Metro Detroit, we think the first meeting of our new RTA is an important and positive moment for the region. 

By providing live coverage, we hope to give readers a way to virtually attempt this small, but historic step forward to metro Detroit. Hopefully, it won't be boring. Hopefully, we will all come away from this meeting with a better understanding of next steps for creating a truly regional, truly multi-modal transit system in southeast Michigan.

We also hope to tell you more about the people serving on the RTA. 

Of course, if this turns out to be a snooze-fest of municipal wonkery, Lauren and I will be happy to liven things up with snarky updates and bad jokes. Because that's how we do. The meeting starts at 3 p.m. We'll see you then. -- JTW

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