From The Detroit News
The city moved closer to building a light-rail path up Woodward Avenue on Wednesday, unveiling the route and stops for the project officials hope will reinvigorate the Motor City.
In announcing an agreement between Detroit and the Federal Transportation Administration for the $500 million project, Mayor Dave Bing called the deal a “landmark moment.”
Under the agreement, the 19-stop rail system would run from the old State Fairgrounds at Eight Mile south to Congress and then west to Washington Boulevard.
From there it would then move north to the Rosa Parks Transit Center, just north of Michigan Avenue. The rail system would then loop south on Washington to Larned and then east to Woodward and back north to Eight Mile.
“This is a landmark moment in Detroit’s journey to make light rail a reality in our city,” Bing said in a release.
“With the support of FTA staff, we have reached this target faster than many believed was possible.”
The plan is a compromise between transit activists who wanted trains to run in the center of Woodward and businesses that wanted them closer to the curb. The new route will run in the center north of Grand Circus and nearer the curb through downtown.
Construction could begin next year.
The project’s inclusion of a transit stop at the relatively empty corner of Temple Street and Woodward has raised eyebrows. That area has long been rumored as a location for a new hockey arena for the Detroit Red Wings.
Bob Berg, a spokesman for the rail project, said private investors asked for the stop there, but he didn’t know their rationale.
The signing of the agreement will clear the way for the use $25 million in federal funds awarded to the city in August by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
According to the mayor’s office, the money for the trolley system would come from various sources, including: more than $300 million from the federal government; $100 million pledged by a consortium of private investors; the issuance of $75 million in bonds plus an additional $12.5 million in federal and state grants.
But one big unknown is the reaction from the M-1 Rail group, a coalition of private investors including Mike Ilitch, Compuware founder Peter Karmanos and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert — who proposed contributing $100 million to the system.
Under the original proposal, the consortium agreed to pay for a section of light rail running on Woodward from Hart Plaza to the New Center area. The group pushed for stops along the curb, believing that arrangement would spur development along the corridor.
The route now stops before Hart Plaza, and if the investors withdraw their money, the entire project could be in jeopardy.
M-1 Rail CEO Dan Cullen on Wednesday said he was reviewing the new agreement and had no comment.
Carmine Palumbo, of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, questioned the viability of the project without the M-1 coalition.
“If they decide to pull their money out I’m not sure it’s still a viable project,” Palumbo said. The council has been a big supporter of the rail system.
“The city is in a tough spot as it tries to balance everything — the comments of the public along with the wishes of the people who are providing financial backing of the project.”
Berg said there was never any serious consideration of having the rail stop at Hart Plaza because it would be too difficult to turn around a car there.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Bing stressed the agreement includes “a series of major proposals sought by the M-1 Rail group who have pledged private funding to be part of the local matching funding on the project.”
According to Bing, all of the train stations originally proposed by the group were retained in the final plan and the downtown route stays on Woodward all the way to Congress and Larned as proposed by M-1 Rail.
Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, said she was impressed with the plan because it meets needs ofthe city and businesses.
“It seems to be a great balance from what the city’s priority was, which is to provide quick and convenient transit options as well as businesses which are looking to have a lot of stops in the downtown area,” Owens said.