The future of smart mass transit in Detroit brightened early this week with an endorsement from the Obama Administration.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing kicked off what could be the start of major changes in transit options for the city. The original idea was to start with a 3.4-mile light rail line to run from downtown along the city’s main Woodward Avenue thoroughfare, according to the Detroit Free Press. With increased momentum, the project could extend out to the inner-ring Detroit suburbs. There are talks of mixing commuter trains and high-speed buses into the potential project extensions.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined Bing in Detroit on Monday to offer his support directly from the Obama Administration. The secretary said that the federal government is committed to conducting a feasibility study that is mandatory to kick start the project. They will examine the environmental impacts of the proposed light rail line on the Detroit neighborhoods it will serve.
The city of Detroit won a $25 million federal grant for the project earlier this year. However, public money will not be the only funding source for the project. Private businesses have lined up $125 million of support for light rail from several prominent Detroit-area business leaders and groups.
The first 3.5-mile section of rail would be paid for by a mix of public and private dollars. The city of Detroit would be responsible for the extension line into the suburbs, though, they expect help from the federal government.
Leaders at the local level are excited about the rail, but it has also won fans in the statehouse. Gov. Jennifer Granholm said, “The city of Detroit will not be successful without a bunch of transportation options for people.” She reiterated that, “[The rail project isn't just] a huge deal for the city, but this is also a huge deal for the state.” She sees light rail as a major economic selling point in Michigan’s largest city.
If all goes well, construction could begin on the initial section of the Woodward Avenue line in 2011. Officials estimate the whole system would take about five years to build.
Photo: Courtesy WCHB