Detroit light rail project picks up steam with $25M from feds

Detroit light rail project received a big federal boost Friday with the announcement that the M-1 Woodward Avenue project will get $25 million from the U.S. Transportation Department for “state-of-the-art” regional transportation.

“This is going to be in the history books what we’re announcing,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the formal announcement at Wayne State University.

Mass transit supporters are pushing the M-1 plan and a larger rapid bus system that would link Detroit and its suburbs as two pieces of a decades-long dream to offer comprehensive service in the Metro area.

LaHood said the bus rapid transit system will get $6.5 million in Federal Transit Administration planning funds, less than the $25 million originally planned.

A Regional Transit Authority will oversee the bus rapid transit system and other bus service in southeast Michigan. County executives have until March 19 to appoint their representatives to the authority, which is to hold its first meeting a month later.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, said M-1 could break ground this year, but it’s more likely the work to build stops and lay down tracks will begin in 2014.

This year, organizers are doing environmental studies and looking to buy the climate-controlled cars that can seat up to 60 people.

Though separate from each other, organizers hope to eventually link the two projects.

Former House Speaker Paul Hillegonds, R-Holland, who was named by Gov. Rick Snyder as chairman of the Regional Transit Authority, a key element in winning federal dollars, said Friday he welcomed LaHood’s announcement.

“This is terrific news,” the DTE executive said. “The M-1 rail wasn’t likely to go forward without the support of federal transportation officials.”

Hillegonds said the coming months will be all about laying the groundwork for the authority’s mission.

“It has taken us a long time to reach this point, and it really is like starting up a new business,” he said.
Built, operated by nonprofit

The $25 million for the M-1 rail project will support construction of a planned 3.3-mile streetcar line along Woodward in Detroit that will cost $137 million.

“This is my 13th visit to Detroit … lucky 13,” LaHood said. “What I have seen happen in Detroit is a transformation.”

LaHood said the Obama administration is committed to the “creation of a modern transportation system that will create jobs Detroit needs right now.”

The light rail line will be built and operated at the outset by the nonprofit M-1 Rail Corp. More than a dozen businesses, foundations and institutions, including the Kresge Foundation, Penske Corp. and Quicken Loans, make up the group.

The six light rail cars will run on embedded track along Woodward, will stop at 11 stations, and run 117 weekday trips each way from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

They’ll travel about 12 mph and take roughly 16 minutes to make a one-way trip. Cars would run every 71/2 minutes — from Congress north to Grand Boulevard — at peak times and every 12 minutes at other times.

Starting at Jefferson Boulevard, stops would include Campus Martius, Comerica Park, Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and end at New Center.

Regional leaders have settled on a 34-station, four-line regional rapid bus system that would run on a loop route connecting downtown Detroit, Macomb and Oakland counties and Detroit Metro Airport.

M-1 hopes to connect its line to the bus system.

“The M-1 rail project will truly be a catalyst for bringing new jobs, employers, retailers, and attractions into downtown, Midtown and the New Center area along Woodward Avenue,” FTA administrator Peter Rogoff said in a statement announcing the funding.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, said the M-1 rail project will help the area economy grow and improve quality of life.

“This transportation is a big victory for our people,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, added the project will create more than 2,000 jobs.
Private sector raises $100M

In February 2010, the Transportation Department awarded $25 million for the M-1 Detroit light rail as part of a 9.3-mile, $500 million project that was to travel from the riverfront up Woodward to Eight Mile.

But LaHood reallocated that grant in December 2011 to the bus rapid transit system, and M-1 scaled back its plan to a $137 million program.

The $25 million award had been on hold, awaiting the state Legislature’s action.

On Friday, LaHood further applauded M-1 advocates in raising $100 million from private sector sources, including the likes of Roger Penske, Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen.

Penske called the project the “culmination of five years of hard work.”

“It was a vision,” he said. “This is going to strengthen Detroit, no question. We need to have a strong core. There’s no question this corridor will do that. It’s going to bring jobs. We need jobs.”

Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, added the project “will create new connections for workers, businesses and visitors all along the system.”

Despite intense scrutiny of Detroit’s finances, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said Friday that the green light for funding the M-1 rail project is one of many things in the city’s favor right now, including the auto show, the $279 million Cobo Center renovation and the Detroit Future City project with its $150 million pledge from the Kresge Foundation.

“The investment from our private community here in Detroit is unmatched,” the mayor said. “The M-1 rail will create a transportation system that allows people to move more easily within our city, increasing the vibrancy and vitality of Detroit.”

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Source : DetroitNews

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