RTA Expands Citizens Advisory Committee

DETROIT—It looks like those serving on the RTA’s Citizens Advisory Committee will have to move over and make room for some new folks.

Southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority board members voted this week to expand the advisory body’s membership from 30 to 50 people. Their decision came during a busy Wednesday meeting at the Ann Arbor District Library that also included approving the contract for the agency’s new chief executive.

“The resolution is intended to expand the size of the CAC so more voices can be heard, so we have a more inclusive committee,” said board member Liz Gerber. “It’s an important response to concerns that there are individuals and groups that are not represented already.”

Those already appointed to the committee will still remain in place under the measure, but it opens the way for up to 20 additional members to join. The RTA is now accepting applications for the new CAC positions.

Hertel's Contract Approved

Afterwards, the board approved a contract for John Hertel, the former head of the SMART suburban bus agency, to serve as the RTA’s first CEO, a position that last through the end of March 2017. His deal comes with a $160,000 annual salary and includes health insurance, $500 a month in car allowance, contributions towards a 401(a) retirement plan, reasonable expenses, phone, long-term and short term disability, life insurance and severance pay if there is no cause for termination.

All things considered, Hertel’s employment agreement is about a two percent bump in salary and benefits from what he received as SMART; it falls below what the board’s finance committee had projected for the position.

The duties and expectations of the new position will be determined by members of the board with his cooperation over the next 45 days and at the beginning of each calendar year. In addition to setting up his office and running day-to-day operations at the agency, Hertel is expected to organize a millage campaign to help run the RTA and its projects.

In a brief address to the board and members of the public, Hertel noted that he had spent the last seven years of his life working to advance transit in Southeast Michigan. During that time, he said he had worked to develop a transit plan for the region, led SMART and advocated for the state’s RTA legislation. He also reflected on the work ahead of him.

“I believe unfortunately that because of 50 years of inappropriate policies we are … in a primitive state compared to the rest of the country and the world in regards to mass transit,” he said. “We have a very, very, long way to go to catch up. We need to do it as quickly and as possible.”

In order to get a jump on his duties as CEO, Hertel said over the last month he had already interviewed several potential staff members; spoken with officials at M-1 Rail, the governor’s office and the Federal Transit Administration; and gave a presentation on the RTA to community members in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

Woodward Avenue Transit Alternatives Analysis

Following his appointment, Carmine Palombo of SEMCOG gave a presentation on the Woodward Avenue Transit Alternatives Analysis, an 18-month study the organization has been conducting of high level transit options on the Woodward Corridor.

SEMCOG has been considering whether light rail, bus rapid transit or traditional bus service would be best to improve transportation along the 27-mile corridor, which stretches from Detroit’s riverfront to Pontiac.

“[We] came came to the conclusion, around the public input, that the best alternative for us to take into the next round of funding was bus rapid transit,” Palombo said. “We get just about the same level of positive impact to economic for considerably fewer dollars.”

Woodward is one of four corridors mentioned in a governor’s proposal for a 113-mile regional transit network in Southeast Michigan.

The next round of public meetings for the Alternatives Analysis will be the first week of December. They’ll help determine whether BRT routes should run straight up Woodward or deviate into neighboring communities. The entire project, scheduled to wrap up next year, will require RTA approval before it can be submitted to the FTA.

During the meeting, Board Chair Paul Hillegonds also acknowledged that the RTA had finally passed through hoops necessary for federal funding.

Officials from the Federal Transit Administration had been expected to speak before the board Wednesday, but were prevented by this week’s shutdown of the federal government. On Friday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited Detroit to announce $30 million in funding for local transportation projects, including $6.4 million for the RTA to implement bus rapid transit, according to the Detroit News.

 

Those interested in becoming members of the CAC can get an application online here.

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