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Detroit Gets $25M In Federal Funding For Woodward Light Rail

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Artist rendering of the Woodward Light Rail. (Credit: m-1rail.com)

Artist rendering of the Woodward Light Rail. (Credit: m-1rail.com)

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DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The U.S. government plans to spend $25 million on a light-rail system through the heart of Detroit, a development federal, state and local leaders said Friday will finally allow the city to join the many other major urban centers that have had mass transit operations for decades.

“We’re the only place that didn’t have this,” Gov. Rick Snyder said at a morning news event, adding that 24 attempts have been made over the past 40 years to develop a modern public transit system in Detroit.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood on Friday came to town with a $25 million check to help fund construction of the rail system, which would run along M-1, Woodward Ave., between Detroit’s downtown and New Center, linking downtown and the cultural, medical and educational center a few miles north.

The streetcar line is expected to include 11 stations, with connections to Campus Martius, Comerica Park, the Detroit Medical Center area, and Wayne State University. The plan calls for six cars, traveling from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., at 12 mph.

LaHood and Snyder were joined by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and others at a morning announcement on the WSU campus.

LaHood has been in talks for months with city, state and regional officials on their part of a deal to create a 3.3-mile streetcar line that’s expected to cost around $140 million.

M-1 Rail, a coalition of private-sector philanthropic and business leaders, has committed more than $100 million toward construction. The remainder will be funded by state and local sources.

LaHood said it’s “a day of celebration for the city.”

“I applaud Michigan’s leaders for coming together to support a regional vision for public transportation that will improve access to jobs, education, medical care, and other destinations for residents in the Detroit metro area,” said LaHood. “The Obama Administration is committed to the creation of a modern transportation system that will create jobs Detroit needs right now, while spurring new economic development to help this region grow stronger in the years to come.”

A spokesman for the M-1 group said project officials hoped to complete the effort by late 2015.

But when they build it … will they come?

“I would absolutely take it — I think it’s a really good idea,” said Amber Taylor of Berkley, a WSU student.

Taylor, who who currently rides the bus, said that safety is somewhat of a concern. “Well, I think that when you take public transportation in general you have to be smart,” she said. “I think in Detroit you maybe have to be a little more smart than in other cities, so I wouldn’t probably take it at night unless I had a friend with me or something like that. But I would feel safe taking it like during the day.”

But not everyone thinks the plan makes sense.

Commenting on WWJ’s Facebook page, Ken Hissong called the projects a colossal waste of taxpayer money: “A project to help the “swells” at the expense of the middle class. If [businessman Roger] Penske wants it so much, let him build it with his own money… all of it.”

Wrote Louie Aceti,  “A huge prison would be more useful.”

Joe Sytniak, Sr. joked, “Is it going across the new bridge?”

Others say it’s a start, but to have much of an impact they’d like a rail system reach further North along Woodward, into the suburbs.

Leaders long have said that for Detroit to grow, public transportation must improve. Light rail along Woodward, the city’s primary business and commercial corridor, has been discussed for years, but some say it has become a necessity with recent moves of thousands of jobs downtown by Quicken Loans and other employers.

Detroit’s current public transportation offerings include a problem-plagued public bus system and the extremely limited People Mover elevated rail.

Buses often break down, leaving riders waiting an hour or more to be picked up at stops across the city, and Mayor Dave Bing, facing a deep budget deficit, has eliminated some sparsely used routes and cut back on hours of operations along others.

The People Mover originally was designed to handle passengers riding a planned light rail line from downtown Detroit to the city’s northern suburbs, but the line was canceled during the Reagan Administration. The stand-alone People Mover opened in 1987. Under its current configuration, it makes 13 stops during a 2.9-mile loop of downtown.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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