Woodward light-rail project surges ahead after Detroit, feds agree on a route

From the Detroit Free Press

Light rail in Detroit is taking a big step forward after the city and federal governments signed off on a final route for the service that would run from the Rosa Parks Transit Center through downtown and north along Woodward to the State Fairgrounds, city officials will announce today.

After months of public hearings, the Bing administration and the Federal Transit Administration agreed to a route that city officials say will encourage residential and commercial reinvestment and provide reliable rail service for commuters and visitors.

Mayor Dave Bing’s point man on the Woodward Light Rail project, Norm White, acknowledged that the plan won’t please everyone and may not immediately satisfy the wealthy private backers who have pledged $100 million to help pay for building the $500-million rail line.

“We’re hopeful they’ll understand this is a compromise situation,” White told the Free Press during an advance look at the plans. “No one got everything they wanted.”

Woodward Light Rail route blends need for speed, development

Light-rail cars would travel down the center of Woodward between 8 Mile on the city’s northern border and Adams Street in Grand Circus Park, and then change gears and run along the avenue’s outer lanes through downtown’s core.

The rail would loop west to Washington Boulevard and to the Rosa Parks Transit Center at Michigan and Cass, connecting the new rail line to downtown’s main transfer point for city and suburban bus riders.

The trains would serve 19 stops along the 9-mile route, including 10 on Woodward between Campus Martius downtown and Grand Boulevard in the New Center — prime locations where the city is banking on transit to stimulate promising clusters of commercial and residential redevelopment.

Those crucial design and route decisions are part of an agreement the city said it has reached with the federal government, a major step forward on the $500-million project to build light rail on Woodward.

Bing’s office and the Federal Transit Administration have signed off on final environmental impact statement — a document that spells out the rail line’s route and where stations will be built.

City officials said the decision on the route sets in motion a chain of events, including early engineering on the project. A $25-million grant that the Obama administration approved for new rail in Detroit last August will be freed up in September.

The city also has pledged to sell $75 million in bonds, part of which would serve as seed money for $300 million in federal funding that the city still must win to build the rail line.

Norm White, who heads the rail project for Bing, said Tuesday that the design is a compromise that takes into account input from wealthy private backers, residents and transit riders.

Several members of the private group of wealthy investors who pledged $100 million to start the project — credited with reviving federal interest in transit in Detroit — weren’t talking Tuesday. Matt Cullen, CEO of the M-1 Rail group, and Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, declined to comment. Two major investors — Compuware’s Peter Karmanos and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert — couldn’t be reached for comment.

The M-1 group preferred to run the rail on outside lanes with frequent stops, which it felt would promote redevelopment. City and transit officials wanted rails in the middle of the avenue as a speedy system geared toward commuters, with fewer stations.

The latest proposal is a mix of both approaches. The rail line would run down the middle of Woodward from 8 Mile south through Midtown and the New Center. But in Grand Circus Park, the rail would be side-running along Woodward down to Congress, looping west and then north on Washington Boulevard to connect to the transit center, which the city insisted on. It would double back on Washington to Larned back to Woodward. City officials had insisted the rail line connect with the transit center, which is downtown’s main transfer point for city and suburban bus systems.

The proposed route provides more stops than initially planned, a win for the private backers, but city officials said the public, by a 90% margin, supported running the line down the center of Woodward, which transit advocates say makes for safer, faster trains.

The new route stops within a couple of blocks of downtown’s prime destinations — Cobo Center, Hart Plaza and the city’s two sports stadiums — but remains several blocks from the Renaissance Center and Greektown.

Source: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011106290375