Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Back to Basics for Detroit Light Rail

Just three weeks after a 9.3-mile light rail line down Woodward Avenue, the city’s central strip, Mayor Dave Bing revealed on Friday that he would allow a shorter link funded by a private group to move forward if it submitted an acceptable business plan within 90 days.
The project will have to be built right: Even at just 3.4 miles, the line could serve as a quick, reliable connector between the waterfront and the New Center, via Midtown. But that will only be possible if trains have their own lanes, run frequently and are funded with no negative effect on the city’s already under-financed bus system. There is evidence that those conditions will not be met. Yet the project’s design has yet to be completed — Detroit transportation advocates could still successfully fight for the appropriate implementation of this first stage of Woodward Light Rail.
But the circumstances in which the project’s reactivation has occurred speak to a continued dysfunction not only in Detroit but in American transportation politics in general.
Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI, photo by bruna camargo
The rail project was put on hold last month because of the sense that Detroit — already mired in debt — would be unable to afford the operations costs of the corridor (estimated at $10 million a year) without sacrificing bus service. Repeated plans for a regional transportation authority, and associated funding, have been in the air for decades. Only a plan that served the suburbs well would be acceptable, since they would have to agree to increase financing for transit. So Bing, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood agreed to refocus efforts and money on city-suburban improvements to the bus network.
Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI, photo byNuevo Anden
The latest move is backtracking at its best. Seemingly overwhelmed by calls from influential congressmen and the executives of downtown businesses like Quicken, Penske, and Compuware — who have already lined up $80 million for a $125 million short version of the line (called M1-Rail, which was actually proposed in advance of the longer corridor) — the deal from last month will be amended. 

Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI, photo by femaletrumpet02

Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI, photo byMaia C

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