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Posted on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

Ann Arbor passes resolution objecting to Washtenaw County's inclusion in regional transit authority

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voiced its objections to Washtenaw County's inclusion in a new Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority at a special meeting Monday.

Mayor John Hieftje called the meeting to consider a resolution protesting enactment of the Regional Transit Authority Act under Senate Bill 909, which passed through the state House last week.

Hieftje and other council members want Gov. Rick Snyder, who has pushed hard to get support in the Legislature for an RTA in the lame duck session, to see to it Washtenaw County is removed from the picture. The council backed away from asking Snyder to outright veto the legislation, instead asking the governor and Legislature to amend it to remove the county.

Council Member Chuck Warpehoski, D-5th Ward, said he was willing to support the county's removal, but he still hopes the RTA will succeed in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

"I want to see the RTA succeed in those three areas," he said. "And seeing the arm twisting it took to get it through at all, I don't want to see the RTA jeopardized for those three areas."


Passengers board at the AATA's Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor officials want to keep the AATA separate from a regional transit authority.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor officials welcome a provision that allows adjacent counties to join the RTA when they desire, but they oppose including Washtenaw County from the start.

The resolution was approved in an 11-0 vote of the council. It was sponsored by Hieftje and Council Members Marcia Higgins, Stephen Kunselman and Sabra Briere.

The state House last week passed SB 909 with immediate effect to create the four-county RTA, including Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, despite objections from Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Ann Arbor officials point out the legislation includes mandatory compliance requirements for local transit operators in the region, including AATA.

Hieftje said at Monday's meeting he feared millions of dollars in federal funding the AATA gets would have to first pass through the RTA under the legislation approved by the Legislature.

The council's resolution argues the AATA is a well managed and fiscally sound transportation authority with an excellent track record of securing Federal Transit Administration funding, exemplary performance and a strong working relationship with federal officials.

"The AATA will be subject to the RTA Board, a new governmental entity with no track record, no relationship with FTA officials, a geographic area with a larger population and less evolved transit infrastructure, resulting in diminution of the consideration of AATA's priorities for meeting our transit needs," the council's resolution states, objecting to linking the AATA with the RTA.

The council's resolution also notes local officials are in a planning process to determine Washtenaw County's transit needs with a focus on the urbanized area of the county. That follows the recent consideration and rejection of creating a countywide transit authority.

City officials fear Washtenaw County's funding could support transportation service outside of the county disproportionate to what it would receive under an RTA.

Council Member Sumi Kailasapathy, D-1st Ward, said she didn't feel comfortable linking the issues of the RTA and regional commuter rail in the resolution.

Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent who represents the 2nd Ward, said she agreed with Kailasapathy and wanted supportive statements about regional rail removed.

"To me, these whereas clauses perpetuate this 'we want everything' notion," Lumm said, voicing her concerns that the city has too many transportation initiatives under way.

After some debate, the council voted 6-5 to keep a sentence in the resolution that opined SB 909 contains "onerous and offensive provisions" related to consideration of regional rail projects.

Council Members Kailasapathy, Lumm, Briere, Sally Hart Petersen and Warpehoski wanted that statement removed, but they were outnumbered.

A majority of council members further agreed it was OK to include a less-opinionated clause that stated SB 909 limits the transit options available to Southeast Michigan and does not acknowledge the readiness to further commuter rail service from Ann Arbor to Detroit.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution Nov. 7 indicating Washtenaw County should have control of any transportation funding that is designated for the county and that the county's voters should determine when to join a regional transit authority.

County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, was in attendance at Monday's meeting. He has been at odds with city officials and supports the county's inclusion in the RTA.

State Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, said before Monday's meeting he's hopeful a solution can be found for regional transit one way or another.

"Like most of my colleagues in the Legislature, I’m very supportive of regional transit in concept, and I believe everyone in the region, and in particular the people of the eastern portion of Washtenaw County, could benefit greatly from more creative approaches to expanding transit options," he said.

"However, I do understand the concerns raised by many in the city of Ann Arbor, and I agree that it’s vital that we first understand exactly how the RTA would impact our county before we move forward," he said. "My hope is that a solution can be reached that would benefit all residents of our region, including the eastern portion of Washtenaw, the city of Ann Arbor, and surrounding communities."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

I applaud the council for taking this action. However, isn't it ironic to see how Hieftje feels now that the shoe is on the other foot? This is exactly how the rest of Washtenaw County felt when the AATA wanted to morph into their own county-wide tax funded entity.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 10:12 a.m.

Why ruin a good thing. I feel that by including Washtenaw would only hurt Washtenaw. I think it best we stand aside and let these other county governments and citizenry demonstrate the talk and the walk. This should be on going assessment and not some carte blanche plan that probably is going to have many bumps and bruises. Bumps and bruises that would hurt a growing but vulnerable transit system such as ours. The goal is to have a unified transit system but right now is now the time. Just look at what Troy did when offered free money for a transit center. They balked and the reasoning was questionable.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 4:24 a.m.

I object to the DDA running the city as unelected official and those bizzare city crosswalk laws that are killing and confusing drivers and pedestrians leaders say we need to give it time and there's a learning curve. Apparently our leaders only feel this way when they are calling the shots?


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Perhaps Mr. Smith would make a better representative of Wayne County. It seems that's whose interest he has in mind.

Patricia Lesko

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 1:08 a.m.

This resolution is about Hieftje's grand scheme to fund rail with the perpetual millage money we pay to AATA ($8-$10 million each year). If you thought county-wide transit was about better bus service, think again. Should our county get drafted into the RTA, all of the members of that board would have to approve ANY funding for trains in Washtenaw County. No way Wayne County pols would EVER let Ann Arbor have trains before Detroit gets its Woodward Ave. transit (streetcars). Hieftje has stacked the AATA Board with cronies who have tried to sell "trains" as something we want and need—people who have wasted millions on an unwanted transit scheme. AATA is NOT being run well (the Board is taking money from its reserve fund to keep the budget balanced), sending buses to Wayne County, and the county-wide transit fiasco made it clear that Hieftje and his AATA Board pals will do or say anything to get what they want (money for The Wally and support for the Fuller Road Station). Were it not for the RTA's possible skim of AATA federal and/or state funds, I'd be in wholly favor of having Hieftje's various transit follies stopped dead by the likes of L. Brooks Patterson's appointees to the RTA Board.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 12:45 a.m.

If I pass a resolution against being included in the AATA, do I still have to pay taxes to fund buses that I never ride?


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.

How ironic: Washtenaw County opts out of the City of Ann Arbor's "regional" transit plan. The City of Ann Arbor opts out of its own "regional" transit plan. The City of Ann Arbor wishes to opt out of true regional transit, mainly because its recognizes the inefficiency of the mayor's greatest fetish: Trains! How sadly comedic. . .


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

right; with this sort of record of achievement, obviously we can't leave it up to the counties and municipalities!

Leah Gunn

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

Washtenaw County did not opt out of the county regional transit plan. It approved the 4-party agreement. It was the various individual jurisdictions (cities and townships), of which Ann Arbor City was only one, which opted out. That plan now lies dormant. What Washtenaw County did, on Nov. 7th, was to pass a resolution saying that it did not wish to be part of the state legislated Regional Transit Authority, because it would have put our county together with two notoriously dysfunctional bus systems, Detroit Dept. of Transportation and SMART (which serves various suburbs). The RTA legislation funds the plan with a vehicle registration tax, which must be passed by the voters. Even if Washtenaw County voters turn this down, if the other counties pass it, it becomes law, and we citizens of Washtenaw who own cars must pay the tax. This authority also would have the right to bypass local zoning laws, and could snatch away state and federal money from our local system. I commend the Ann Arbor City Council for passing this resolution, and I hope other county jurisdictions will join them. The RTA is NOT the answer to efficient transit. Let DDOT and SMART clean up their respective acts before Washtenaw Considers joining.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

I commend the Mayor and City Council for taking bold action against establishing the RTA according to legislation passed recently in the state legislature. SB909 is unlikely to bring any additional resources to Ann Arbor that will benefit our transportation system. More likely is the shift of financial support to other transportation systems in McComb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Any anticipated economic benefits to Washtenaw County are entirely speculative. Only if many major national companies committed to establishing and increasing employment in Southeast Michigan directly related to RTA plans would future success be assured. At this point expanding and interconnecting County transportation systems as a source of economic expansion is entirely wishful thinking. The reality is that County transportation systems require subsidies in order to operate and can be expected to require more support when expanded. The problem is that the RTA will remove all decision capabilities from the AATA which would no longer exist. Instead, the RTA governing board will determine how money is spent on the Ann Arbor transportation system and how it operates as well. The minority representation of Ann Arbor on the RTA board will offer no protection. Unfortunately, Governor Snyder considers the RTA as important and one reason is that it does usurp money and power from Democratic strongholds in Southeast Michigan. Therefore, I expect the Governor to sign the RTA bills into law over our objections. The only means left to prevent establishment of the RTA is to defeat its funding source by voting against an additional vehicular license tax.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 1:07 a.m.

the waste is region-wide in a broader economic sense, a mis-match between the location of the jobs and the location of affordable housing. the RTA will be able to capture a larger amount of federal funding than county authorities combined and will be able to take on projects outside the scope of any one county. everyone knows urban renewal is where it's at these days; our current model of suburban sprawl is unsustainable and "creatives" want vibrant urban spaces enabled by functional mass transit (please forgive me for this crass generalization). some of the proposed transit time numbers may seem a bit wanting at first but once the money starts pouring in from the FedGov, those times could drop rapidly.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 12:56 a.m.

sttc - How would the RTA use resources better than the counties do now? What waste do you see in Ann Arbor's present transportation authority that would be eliminated by participating in the RTA? How will the RTA make Michigan a "hipper" and more competitive state? And what do you mean by "hipper"? Is it functional when the planned bus trip from downtown Detroit to the Blake Transportation Center in downtown Ann Arbor will take one-hour-and-forty-five minutes? Would you really be tempted to use such transportation?


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

we need to stop thinking about just washtenaw county and consider the economic benefit to the region as a whole. detroit and ann arbor both have something that the other needs: detroit has cheap, hip urban housing and ann arbor has a vibrant economy with some of the only real economic growth in michigan over the course of the last 20-30 years. if we can tie the two together more efficiently, we make better use of the resources we have region-wide and eliminate waste. instead of county fighting county, we need to figure out how we can make michigan a hipper, more competitive place than illinois, ohio, indiana, wisconsin, pennsylvania...a functional system of regional mass transit could be one way.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 10:52 p.m.

these people need to get a clue. i disagree with governor synder on a lot of issues but the urgent need for a regional transit authority is one issue where i can fully support the man. the fact of the matter is that we need this regional transit authority if we want to see any real progress towards actually implementing commuter buses or light rail in SE MI. it is the stated policy of the federal government that they will not grant any substantial amount of funding for regional transit projects in the area including M1 Rail and dedicated right-of-way buses until a regional transit authority is in place. county squabbling has held this up for almost half a century and i'm glad to see that someone is finally putting a gun to their heads and making this happen. in an increasingly competitive world, it's nice to see some twenty-first century transportation options finally on the horizon for michigan.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:43 a.m.

Evidently you are in tune with Conan Smith's vision. In the letter (linked to above), he says this: "Ending the balkanization of our transit systems is a fundamental reform if we are to create a system that serves the broadest set of the population and competes successfully against places like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco for federal investments."