The death of a high-profile transit foe may finally free the Detroit metro area to establish a regional bus system — which could help break down the racial segregation that for decades has undermined social and economic progress in the region.
L. Brooks Patterson, the long-time executive of Oakland County, died earlier this month of colon cancer.
Patterson, a proponent of suburban sprawl, for years stymied efforts to levy funds for a bus system, preventing a new referendum after a ballot measure seeking $4.6 billion failed by only 1 percent in 2016.
"The only thing holding this back for the past few years was Brooks," said Kevin McCoy, a transportation expert based in the region. "The region needs regional transit investment — big time."
It now has a proponent of such investment.
Patterson's replacement, Dave Coulter, the first Democrat to lead Oakland County in 27 years, told Detroit's NPR station this week that he would support a ballot measure next year in order to expand transit across the four-county metro region.
The Detroit metro area has struggled for decades to establish a seamless regional transit system serving both its city and suburbs — leaving city residents without a car at an enormous disadvantage in seeking employment in the suburbs. Detroit's suburbs operate a separate transit system from the city, SMART, creating all kinds of headaches for riders.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation prevailed on regional leaders to establish a united regional system, and local advocates were able to win state approval to build a four-county transit authority with taxing power. But funding was missing — until now.
“There are people that would like to get another ballot proposal on the ballot next year and that strikes me as a reasonable goal to try and shoot for,” Coulter said in an interview with NPR this week.
Republicans have said they will seek to challenge his appointment.
This week we’re joined by Bob Searns to talk about his new book and grand ideas for walking trails that circle whole regions and more local routes that make up a new mode of green infrastructure in cities.