Michigan doesn’t seem to get a lot of good news. Even when it does, it’s usually a mixed blessing. Like unemployment is down, but it’s still the highest in the country at 14.5%. Or last month’s $40 million Federal grant for the Pontiac-Chicago Amtrak line. The money is for station improvements, not upgrading the line itself to high-speed standards. Michigan had asked for $800 million to upgrade track and signaling.
On Wednesday, 17 February, though, the news was all good for metro Detroit. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a $25 million grant for M1 Rail, the light rail line planned for Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The funding comes of part of the Stimulus known as TIGER—Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. In announcing the grant, the USDOT press release said:
The project will have significant short-term benefits for Detroit’s beleaguered economy, including job creation and economic activity. The city also expects the project to provide for significant long-term economic growth in the corridor, while improving mobility on a congested portion of Woodward Avenue, which carries 27,000 vehicles per day, on average. The project is also expected to enhance mobility options in this corridor, and attract investment to Downtown Detroit and the New Center area.
In raising the local match for the project, a public-private partnership almost certainly helped snatch the $25 million. Frank Rapoport, an expert with the law firm of McKenna, Long, & Aldridge, LLP said, “Your business community should be congratulated. Detroit is out front here. It’s a great example of public-private partnership.”
Detroit’s big names in business play a big role here. Penske’s Roger Penske, Peter Karmanos Jr of Compuware, Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and founder of Little Ceasar’s, as well as Quicken Loans/Rock Financial founder Dan Gilbert are all involved. Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority and Troy-based Kresge Foundation also kicked in money.
Phase 1 of the M1 Rail project runs 3.4 miles from Hart Plaza, at the foot of Woodward, northwest to Grand Boulevard in the New Center Area. The route takes it past Campus Martius, which hosts ice skating in the winter, Comerica Park and Ford Field, home fields of the Tigers and Lions, respectively. Also along the way are the Foxtown theater district, Detroit Medical Center, and the Cultural Center. The Detroit Science Center, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Public Library, Detroit History Museum, and Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History all call the Cultural Center home. The New Center area is a commercial hub north of downtown and home of Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital. Detroit’s Amtrak station is also in the New Center area.
Trains will average speeds of 31 to 47 miles per hour, aided by an in-street system with signal pre-emption to turn traffic lights green on Woodward as the train approaches. Pre-board fare payment will also reduce dwell times. Wait times between trains will be about 10 minutes. Trains will stop at Hart Plaza and New Center each trip, but at the other 10 stations only when summoned.
Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the city plan to apply for Federal Transit Administration New Starts grant money later this year to fund Phase 2, envisioned to run to 8 Mile Road. Transit advocates hope to see the line extend into Oakland County in the future. Doing so will greatly expand ridership in my opinion. The present plan, however, stops short by not extending its southern terminus 3 blocks to Cobo Center. With a regional authority set to expand and renovate the home of the North American International Auto Show, not connecting it to transit seems short-sighted. Another mistep is DDOT’s newly opened Rosa Parks Transit Center that sits 4 blocks off Woodward and 5 blocks away from Cobo.
Construction could begin later this year or early next with Phase 1 beginning operations as early as 2012. Khalid Diab, manager of The Whitney, an upscale restaurant on Woodward, said, “This rail system is the start of a new page in the city’s growth and development. We haven’t received a lot of positive news over the years here in Detroit, but this is great news for the city.”
Previously on metro Detroit transit: