Woodward light rail line group says it will pay for first 10 years of operations

From the Detroit Free Press:

The private-sector group that wants to build a 3-mile light rail line on Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the New Center said today it has raised all of the money it will need to build the line – and is pledging to fund the operations of the system privately for the first 10 years after it’s built.

The M-1 Rail Group outlined the details in a report it has sent to the federal government. The group of private investors and philanthropic groups behind the effort said they would commit to paying the estimated $5.1 million annual cost of operating the Woodward rail line through 2025.

That’s a significant step for the project. How to pay for operating the system has been a key point of contention in a city that’s now under a consent deal with the state to oversee its finances and plans to slash millions from its annual appropriations for the city’s bus system.

The group would then donate the project’s assets to the appropriate agency, such as a regional transit authority that Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature are working to create for southeast Michigan to oversee a big new network of rapid-transit buses on Woodward, Michigan Avenue, Gratiot and Hall Roads connecting Detroit to key suburbs, Metro Airport and Ann Arbor.

The project would still require nearly $40 million in federal funding that M-1 Rail said the feds have already committed for construction of the rail line.

M-1 Rail leaders have been battling back after Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder said in December they were pulling their support for the rail project, which at the time would have extended north to 8 Mile Road. They said the city was better off working on a plan with the suburbs to build the rapid-transit bus system.

Snyder and Bing later relented and said they would support a smaller version of the Woodward rail line. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave the M-1 group a 90-day period to conduct a feasibility study showing that there was sufficient need – and private funding – for a rail line.

M-1 Rail said it submitted the report to the feds on Friday and released a summary of the report to the Free Press today.

Source: http://www.freep.com/article/20120423/NEWS01/120423048