LaHood: Regional Transit “Missing Piece” To Detroit Light Rail

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    Detroit—The fate of Metro Detroit’s first light rail project is now in the hands of state legislators, according to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
    LaHood, along with Mayor Dave Bing and Governor Rick Snyder met with regional lawmakers Monday afternoon in to discuss the next steps to making the M-1 light rail project—one that has been in the discussion phase for years—a reality.
    “We’re willing to put on the table millions of dollars if this community can get its act together,” LaHood said of the Metro Detroit region. He would not give any specific dollar amounts but said the project is “very close” to meeting the requirements for significant federal funding.

    The act that regional leaders have to “get together” is passing legislation that merges the area’s two major public transit systems, LaHood said.

    “The one thing that hasn’t happened is legislation to create a regional transportation system. That’s the missing piece,” LaHood said, adding that regional transit is not far out of reach for Metro Detroit. “I met with the speaker of the house and senate majority leader and they told me that they support the idea of a regional transportation system and that legislation,” he said.

    Both Bing and Snyder support the merger of the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) bus systems to create more streamlined transit in the area.

    Bing said legislators must act swiftly to get regional transit approved and secure federal funding for light rail construction. “It behooves us to get this done now because I’m not sure that we are ever going to have the alignment we have right now from a leadership standpoint with the Obama administration, Lansing, and the City of Detroit,” he said.

    Snyder also encouraged state lawmakers to prioritize regional transit legislation before the end of the year as a next step from Monday’s meeting.  “Hopefully this can be one of the items in lame duck in particular that will get done after the election,” he said. “I don’t view this as a partisan issue. This is really an issue about how to show that Metro Detroit, the whole region, can come together.”

    The proposed light rail project is a 3.3 mile streetcar rail that that would span along Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the city’s New Center district. 

    Critics of the M-1 proposal have said 3.3 miles is not a significant span of railway to make a difference but supporters tout the proposal as a foundation for building a larger public rail system in the area.
    Detroit is a century behind other cities when it comes to transit, according to Lahood who has visited the motor city ten times in his four-year tenure with the Obama administration.
     “Detroit is the only major metropolitan area in the country that doesn’t have a regional transportation system,” Lahood said. “Every other place, people have come together, set aside their own agendas and their own egos for the good of the people.”
    The economic impact of a DDOT/SMART merger paired with the beginnings of a light rail system will be significant, Snyder said, referencing research from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation that showed transit as a major barrier to access to gainful employment in the region.
     “This is us finally recognizing that our citizens, our customers, desire a system that allows them to move about the region as quickly as possible,” Snyder said.

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