The Woodward Light Rail Project may not be dead in the water. On Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder to discuss the project, which had been officially scrapped at the end of last year, according to the Detroit Free Press. Then on Monday, LaHood announced there may be additional federal funding available for the continuation of the project.
What changed between last month and Monday?
Initially, the proposed light rail stretched from Woodward to 8 Mile, an ambitious idea that LaHood questioned on grounds of financial feasibility. Detroit, with its shrinking revenue and tax base, would have had to come up with an additional $10 million per year in operating costs to keep the line running.
After meeting with LaHood in December, Bing and Snyder scrapped the plans in favor of a system of high-speed buses. Those buses were meant to essentially cover the same route as the proposed light rail.
Now, the new proposal is to build a 3.4-mile light rail system that would reach from downtown to the New Center area. This light rail system would then still be augmented by a rapid-transit bus system as well.
Where would the additional federal funding that LaHood mentioned come from?
In an interview with the Detroit News on Monday, LaHood mentioned the possibility that Detroit could be awarded a competitive TIGER grant. That grant would bring an additional $25 million to the project, in addition to the $25 million grant that the federal government has already awarded the city.
What roadblocks remain to the project?
Detroit needs to come up with a viable plan to cover the $10 million in operating costs. It also must come up with $100 million outside of the federal grants for construction costs. LaHood is also insisting that to be considered for further federal grant money, Michigan must establish a regional transit authority for the Metro Detroit area. The proposal addressing all of these concerns must be submitted within 90 days. The countdown began Friday.
Where would the $100 million come from?
A combination of private investors and public funds. The Woodward Light Rail Project has benefited from the start by the interest and proposed funding by a group of Detroit businessmen known as M-1 Rail. Private investors include Penske CEO Roger Penske, entrepreneur Mike Ilitch, Compuware founder Peter Karmanos, and Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, as well as the Kresge Foundation, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in politics and public issues.
- Politics & Government
- Transportation/Public Transportation
- Ray LaHood
- the Detroit Free Press