Many large cities throughout the Midwest have been struggling with issues such as urban sprawl. Getting workers from one area to the jobs in another has become a transportation challenge. Building multi-lane highways only seems to encourage more sprawl, so many cities have worked with surrounding suburbs to build mass transit systems for the entire metropolitan region. For one major city, political leaders are just now getting around to making that happen and as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn reports… even now it’s not going to be easy:
Many large cities throughout the Midwest have been struggling with
issues such as urban sprawl. Getting workers from one area to the jobs
in another has become a transportation challenge. Building multi-lane
highways only seems to encourage more sprawl. So many cities have worked
with surrounding suburbs to build mass transit systems for the entire
metropolitan region. For one major city, political leaders are just now
getting around to making that happen. And as the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn reports… even now it’s not
going to be easy:
Detroit is the 10th largest city in the country…and it’s had more than
its share of struggles over issues such as chronic unemployment, poverty,
Finding solutions to those intractable problems has long been a goal of
government leaders in the area. But over the past three decades…they’ve lacked
one tool… used by most other metropolitan areas
around the country…that can make a difference. A regional transportation
But that’s about to change.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has joined Detroit Mayor Kwame
Kilpatrick…and the heads of the three largest counties in Metro
Detroit…to announce the formation of the Detroit Area Regional
Transportation Authority…otherwise known as DARTA.
The new regional transportation authority is backed by local governments,
business interests ..and mass transit proponents. The government leaders have
signed an agreement to work towards the regional transportation
system. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick says the new deal will benefit the
city AND suburbs.
“This is a real people thing today. It’s also an economic thing…and it’s
rare when these two things come together. This will drive the economic
engine of the state. To move people to jobs…leads to economic
The agreement is the first step towards ending decades of debate over how
best to get workers from their homes to their jobs. With many Detroiters
living below the poverty level…owning a car is impossible. But that can
mean taking several buses over a span of three hours just to get to work
That type of commute is what DARTA proponents, like such as Attorney Richard
Bernstein hope to end. As a blind man…he’s unable to drive to get
where he needs to go. He says Detroit’s lack of coordinated mass
transportation pushed him to become a transit activist a couple of years
“As a disabled person who can’t drive…I struggle for my independence and I
struggle for my freedom. And DARTA is the only hope that someone like me
has in order to lead a quality of life here in Southeast Michigan.”
Bernstein says he’d like to have that extra measure of independence. But he
says…right now…it’s impossible for him to get around town on his
own…given the current state of mass transit in Metro Detroit.
“For me right now …it isn’t that regional transit is difficult to
use…it’s that it’s non existent …that is the issue. Ultimately, if I want
to get from my house …or my apartment to my office. There is no bus I can
take. There is no bus I can take from my office to court.”
But Bernstein’s passion for regional transportation isn’t uniformly shared.
The original measure creating DARTA was vetoed by former Governor John
Engler last year as one of his final acts in office. The state legislature
tried to resurrect the bill in January…but it has subsequently
stalled…pushing the new governor, Jennifer Granholm and Detroit Mayor Kwame
Kilpatrick and others to find alternate ways routes to create a working agreement.
The opponents say the regional transportation system is not fair. State
Representative Leon Drolet opposes DARTA because he says his more rural
constituents shouldn’t be taxed for a bus system they’ll never use. He wants a
provision that would let communities “opt-out” of the DARTA if they choose. The
Republican legislator says he also concerned because there’s no plan to pay for
DARTA yet. And he says no one’s convinced him that such a system is really
needed in Metro Detroit…home of the Big Three automakers..
“Macomb, Oakland suburban Wayne communities…those are built around the
car. Everywhere there’s a parking lot. Boston, Washington DC, New
York…those communities…mass transit is very viable in the inner areas
because it costs 30 bucks a day or 50 bucks a day to park your car. And
that’s what drives people to mass transit…the inconvenience of driving
But automakers say they want the regional mass transit system. The
Southeastern Michigan Council of Government’s Transportation
Expert…Carmine Palombo…says many of the region’s businesses are having a
hard time getting workers from their homes to their jobs. And that includes
the Big Three automakers…who have come out in favor of DARTA.
“The auto company themselves employ people who need to have good transit in
order to get to their jobs…and so they’re feeling the pinch…just like
every other employer is who wants to get…make sure they get to the jobs
they have to offer in a stable environment. So the car companies aren’t the
(sound up – bus)
While the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority agreement has been
signed….the work is just beginning for transit activists in
Metro-Detroit. The current agreement only provides for planning a
regional transportation system. There’s currently no money for
implementation of ANY plan.
And DARTA opponents such as Leon Drolet are still on the job, too. He’s
charging that the chairman of his county…had no authority to sign
the DARTA agreement…and is asking the State’s Attorney
General to investigate.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jerome Vaughn.