Thursday, December 17, 2009

Detroit area officials spar over regional transit authority

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Michigan State Rep. Bert Johnson reportedly was to introduce legislation Thursday that would establish a regional public transit authority for metropolitan Detroit, as the Motor City continues to play catch-up in terms of public transportation.

Johnson, who represents Detroit, said he wants the legislation introduced before the Legislature leaves for the year at the end of the week, saying that federal transportation funding will be lost to elsewhere if action isn't taken soon. Johnson seeks to advance the legislation despite concerns voiced by Detroit Mayor David Bing.

Bills that would set up the authority to govern a system of improved and new bus and rail service throughout Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and in the city of Detroit, already have been presented to the state legislature. A state-sanctioned legal authority is needed to qualify for federal transportation dollars to finance implementation of any regional system.

But so far, approval for creating an authority has proved elusive. The three counties were able to reach an accord on the bulk of the proposed legislation, but Detroit has objected because the 65-35 city-suburbs percentage split of federal transit funding set up in the 1980s would be replaced in the new legislation by tradition state and federal formulas.

"The city is right to be concerned for that. That's a very valid point," Johnson acknowledged, but he said an imperfect process is preferable to further delays. "These are imperfect ideas we hope to make more perfect" through negotiations during work group and committee meetings, he said.