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Tuesday, 1 April, 2008 8:50 PM

Downtown Detroit will benefit from proposed light rail service

Graphic courtesy of www.dtogs.com


by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

 

It is a definite possibility that downtown Detroit could get a streetcar-style of public transportation installed along Woodward Avenue. The service would begin at Hart Plaza and travel north to Grand Boulevard and back. The plan would cost $103 million and would be privately funded, according to Crain's Detroit Business.

Jennifer Boivin is a member of Transportation Riders United, an organization dedicated to improving transportation access and mobility in metro Detroit. She spoke at a Green panel that was offered at Wayne State University.

"There are two proposed plans: from downtown to Eight Mile and from New Center to downtown," Boivin said.

"Transportation would be a really good thing. It's the first step in the right direction. It can have huge environmental effect. Built for people to walk to places; not a consumer product. Something we deserve."

The new light rail service is being backed by some of Detroit's most prominent business owners: Roger Penske, Mike and Marian Illitch, Dan Gilbert and Peter Karmanos Jr. Funding is expected to come from ticket sales, advertising, money from businesses close to the stations and possibly a new tax.

"DDOT is pursuing a program called New Starts, to help cities fund new rail systems," said Tim Roseboom, project manager at the Detroit Transit Options for Growth Study. "A lot of lines built in last 10-20 years were funded through it."

The total cost for the construction of the light rail system is $372 million. Up to 60 percent of that will be funded by the New Starts program. Another source of funding could come from highway funds that would be rerouted to the transit department. DDOT expects to apply for the New Starts program later this year, Roseboom said.

DDOT recommends a light rail system that begins at Eight Mile and Woodward near the State Fair and goes south to the downtown area. This would include a total of 13 to 15 stops. Two streetcar-style trains would be powered with overhead electrical wires.

The light rail service would go to destinations that the People Mover doesn't reach. For example, it would pass by and stop at Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, and the Amtrak station in the New Center Area. Each streetcar is expected to hold 150 people or more.

In essence, a passenger could get on the light rail train from the Renaissance center and travel to the Amtrak station. Then, they could take another train and be able to travel anywhere across the country without ever getting in a car.

Annual operating costs are expected to be from $4.2 million to $5.6 million, according to Crain's Detroit Business. Advertising would be available at each of the stations to offset some of those costs.

A study by the University of Detroit Mercy and Deloitte & Touche L.L.P. concluded that 1.8 million passengers would use the light rail service in its first year. By the fifth year, over three million passengers would use it.

Studies have shown that public transportation such as this would decrease traffic congestion and parking issues. It would also encourage new economic development.

A similar light rail service was created in Portland, Oregon. That service cost $89 million to build and then created $2.2 billion in new development within two blocks from the system over the course of nine years. Minneapolis has a similar system that opened in 2004. Denver's light rail system is currently in operation.

Construction could begin on the Detroit light rail system as soon as 2010. There are certain benchmarks set up under the New Starts program by the federal government. Engineering will take about a year to complete. Meanwhile, an environmental impact statement will be submitted to the government at the same time.

Although the light rail service will travel along Woodward Avenue for most of its path, it will not use Woodward in the central business district. The street is too narrow to fit this type of transportation. It will likely turn onto another road that is parallel to Woodward at its southernmost point.

If the project is successful, it could be expanded to a regional system. Three of America's most populated cities all have subway systems: New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. Why not Detroit? This plan would bring more people into the city of Detroit and it would encourage new businesses to relocate to the city as well.

 

 

 

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