Wayne County Transit: Time to Move
By Bill Wild
Mayor of Westland
It’s time for Wayne County to get moving.
As anyone who lives here knows, metro Detroit has fewer public transit options than any other major urban area in the country. A lack of reliable public transit makes it harder for workers to connect to jobs. It also stifles business growth while adding congestion to our roads and pollution to our environment.
After many years of false starts, we’re making progress. A public-private partnership will break ground this summer on the M-1 streetcar project, which will cover 3.3 miles of Woodward Avenue, from Congress Street downtown to the New Center.
More track, more transit: But 3.3 miles of track is hardly enough for a county that spans 641 square miles. As a candidate for Wayne County Executive, my goal is to be a champion for new transit efforts. Options on the table include the bus rapid transit (BRT) plans under discussion by the new Regional Transit Authority, and a Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter rail line currently being developed by the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG).
These crucial initiatives will cross city, township and county borders, giving county government a key role to play in bringing communities together. Sadly, the current county administration has been mostly silent on transit issues, leaving others to take the lead. That’s a mistake that won’t be repeated if I have a chance to serve as county executive.
President Obama’s proposed transportation budget includes multi-billion dollar initiatives for public transit projects. Wayne County should take the lead in advocating for this far-sighted proposal in Congress — and be ready to take advantage of these programs if they are passed into law.
Possible routes and stops for the RTA’s bus rapid transit system are still under discussion. The Ann Arbor to Detroit route will make cost-efficient use of existing rail lines, with proposed stops in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Westland (where I serve as mayor), Dearborn and Detroit.
A train station serving daily commuters is more than just a convenient way to help people get around. Research demonstrates property values rise along transit corridors, because people prefer to live near bus and train lines. A recent study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, for example, looked at property values in five major cities during the 2006 to 2011 recession: Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix and San Francisco.
Researchers found residential homes located near rail lines had a higher selling price than homes not located near transit amenities. The premium, on average, was a 41.6 percent increase in home values. Quality, affordable transit also creates demand for new commercial expansion. Location, location, location is the first rule of real estate — and investors in office, retail and industrial real estate are attracted to locations with good transportation options.
Better transit can help balance our budget: Property values in Wayne County declined by 34 percent between 2007 and 2012, causing serious financial problems for the county and for many local communities — including Westland. We balanced our city budget through shared sacrifice and sharing services with surrounding communities.
Wayne County, unfortunately, still has a $175 million budget deficit. Rising property values and new commercial development, spurred by transit expansion, can help repair our tax base. It’s one step towards a sustainable financial model for county government, with expenses matched to revenues and adequate funding for critical public services.
No more last-place rankings: Wayne County faces a host of challenges. Not only are we far behind other communities when it comes to transit, but a study released in May found we have the worst bridges in the state of Michigan. That follows a March report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which documented that Wayne County ranks dead last in the state of Michigan in terms of health outcomes for its residents.
With a wealth of resources — including great people, our Great Lakes, and a great industrial base — Wayne County shouldn’t finish last in anything. With new leadership and new ideas, we can get our county moving, improve our finances, and improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works here.
Bill Wild is mayor of Westland and a candidate for Wayne County Executive.