Detroit M-1 Rail planners expect to begin providing commercial service by late-summer of 2016.
Preliminary utility relocation work began this winter and construction on the $176 million project is expected to begin in 2014, continuing through 2015.
One of the next steps is bureaucratic. The 3.3-mile streetcar plan will travel along Woodward from Larned in downtown to Grand in New Center. Detroit controls the Woodward from Larned to Adams and the Michigan Department of Transportation from Adams to Grand.
Both entities must grant the private project an operator’s license. The public hearing, that by law must be held before a license is granted, was held at the Detroit Public Library.
Nearly 50 attended and were given the chance to make comment or ask questions, although there was not immediate response. Each of the comments and questions will be answered individually and posted on the M-1 Rail website by Friday.
Some in the crowd called the project “long overdue,” while others said it was “shortsighted.”
“They need to run a test of some kind with the bus system,” said John Lauve. “Paint ‘trolley car’ on them and run them down the road, see what kind of ridership you get before you put all these rails in the ground.
“This is another People Mover-type project… The route was all goofed up… and people don’t even use the thing … You’re putting an awful lot of money into a fixed asset that’s inflexible, immovable, and cannot be easily adjusted.”
Lauve said it’s a “dead-end project” that end at Grand where there are no buses.
“This money should have been spent on making a functional bus system where people would want to get on a bus,” he said.
Several people raised concerns that the street car would provide the same service that Department of Transportation buses already do.
One attendee said he’d only support an operator authority if the trolley line links in with the region’s other transportation options.
With 19 stops along the route, there will be stations that are in close proximity to SMART and DDOT bus stops, the People Mover downtown and the Amtrak station in Midtown.
“We supply service up and down Woodward,” said Fred A. Westbrook Jr., president of the DDOT bus drivers union. “Our concern is that if they’re eliminating bus stops, then they might start eliminating buses, which entails eliminating bus drivers.”
Sommer Woods, the director of public and governmental affairs with M-1, said the streetcar system won’t displace other modes of transportation.
“There are many cities across this county that have streetcars and buses that coexist,” she said. “It’s more of a perspective of trying to encourage walkability.”
Although plans are preliminary, there are plans to spend $1 million installing bike routes parallel to the M-1 Rail along Cass, one street to the west of Woodward.
Funding for the project is primarily private, with $100 million coming from businesses and donors. MDOT plans to spend about $40 million on road, bridge and sidewalk preparations and the federal government has committed $20 million.
Once in place, annual costs are projected to be $5.1 million.
Planners project 1.8 million riders per year, nearly 5,000 per day, said M-1 Rail Chief Operating Officer Paul Childs. Standard fares are $1.50, but with discounts to disabled, senior and low-income riders, the average is closer to $1.40 per fare, meaning about $2.24 million per year.
There is a $10 million “sinking fund” from which the M-1 Rail can borrow up
The system would typically run 5 cars able to carry as many as 200 each at “crush capacity,” said Childs. An additional sixth streetcar could be added at peak times.
The rail system is designed so that if plans materialize in the future to extend the rail, possibly to Eight Mile, it would be easy to tie in a new line.
The street cars would travel on a track the same way a bus does on the road, except limited to a single lane. Like a bus and other traffic, the streetcar would stop at signals and be impeded in cases of heavy traffic.