The Woodward light rail project is officially dead

The following clip comes from the Detroit Free Press:

The ambitious plan for a light-rail line on Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and 8 Mile has been scrapped in favor of a system of city and suburban buses, several officials briefed on the decision told the Free Press today.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Detroit Mayor Dave Bing that doubts that Detroit could pay operating costs over the long term for the light-rail line because of its and the state’s financial problems swayed him against the plan. The decision came despite earlier public support that included LaHood’s 2010 visit to Detroit to award a $25-million grant to get the project moving.

LaHood, President Barack Obama’s top transportation official, met last week with Bing and Snyder, and the sides agreed that the better option is a system of rapid-transit buses operating in dedicated lanes on routes from downtown to and through the suburbs along Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan avenues and along M-59, the officials said.

…The decision to scrap the light-rail plan outraged Megan Owens, director of the Detroit advocacy group Transportation Riders United, who said she had heard rumblings in recent weeks that “the project was in trouble” in large part because there was no dedicated source of operating money, estimated to be at least $10 million a year, for the rail line after it was built.

Supporters said the light-rail line would spur major residential and commercial redevelopment along Woodward well in excess of what it would cost to build the line. “We’re basically throwing away a $3-billion economic development investment,” Owens said. “I’m outraged Mayor Bing would let this happen on his watch.”

This is bad news for Detroit, but I don’t know how unexpected it is. With Snyder preparing to take the city over and impose even more drastic austerity measures, I knew it was unlikely that the state would come through and guarantee operating expenses. I think it’s become pretty clear that the state doesn’t want to put another dollar into Detroit. I don’t see how the state of Michigan can be successful without a functional Detroit, but I guess we’ve decided to take that chance.

update: According to Carmine Palombo of SEMCOG, the planned Detroit – Ann Arbor commuter train is moving ahead despite the cancellation of the Woodard Avenue project.

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  1. Edward
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    The inhabitants of Detroit are, by and large, black democrats. Does it really surprise anyone to hear that our Governor is cutting off the spigot?

  2. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Light rail sounds so neat, but really is very expensive to start a system from scratch. Bus rapid transit (BRT) to many people sounds almost…. disgusting, but it is so much cheaper to build. But just look at the photo on this link for Bogata –

    It is just like a light rail system except there are no rails and the busses are very clean and modern. Even the station looks good.

  3. Josh
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    for a “businessman” snyder doesn’t seem to know much about fucking investment

  4. anonymous
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Investment is happening, just not in Detroit.

  5. gary
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    white people won’t ride buses. we prefer the luxury of trains.

  6. Mr. X
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Buses could work. It just seems antiquated. When I think “city of the future”, I don’t think bus. I think train. I think Portland, Washington D.C., etc. I liked this Woodward rail project because it was something big and ambitious. Not only would it tie in to the Ann Arbor – Detroit passenger line that’s being developed, and make it more attractive/functional, but it would also send the signal that Detroit was fighting to regain its place among the important American cities. Instead, it looks as though we’re going to cut and run on Detroit. I find that depressing.

  7. Mr. X
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I should add that I’m a white person and I take the bus.

  8. Tommy
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I happen to agree that a rail system going up and down Woodward to the edge of the city would have not given much bang for the buck, would have been a tough sell, and would be a project where mass transit did not serve the masses. Buses in dedicated lanes that are physically separted from the rest of traffic is a much better plan. I still think that making something Detoit centric is unwise. It is beyond repair unless and until the city shrinks in geographic size so that it can be serviced properly. It is an unsustainable model right now. Putting in a new train won’t fix any fundamentals. I am not sure, Mark, that I agree with you final statement …I don’t see how the state of Michigan can be successful without a functional Detroit … it hasn’t been functional for a long time. There is not one single company that couldn’t pick up and move out of the city right now if given similar tax breaks that many of these companies are granted. I am not saying it is right, I’m just saying that cutting losses would kill the state.

  9. Tommy
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    that is ‘wouldn’t’ kill the state.

  10. Edward
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    How will this impact the Ann Arbor to Detroit rail line? I imagine this doesn’t help.

  11. Star Child
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I am loosing any hope I had for a Detroit renascence… all I can say is I am sooo glad I moved from Detroit to the A2 area. Best choice ever.

  12. Anonymous Mike
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a fan of Snyder, but I don’t blame him for this. The city has proven again and again that it’s not capable of managing itself. Just look at the crime and corruption around the Kilpatrick administration. The place is a mess, from top to bottom. I don’t agree about putting 60 kids in an classroom, but I think that, in this instance, the beast does need to be starved. Maybe, in ten years, if they’ve made steps to right-size the city and increase transparency, then we should put it back on the table. But, until then, I agree that we should look for less costly solutions.

  13. Pete Murdock
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Carmine Palombo of SEMCOG is quoted as saying Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter train is moving ahead despite cancellation of Woodard Ave. light rail.

  14. Meta
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of buses, and anyone heard whether or not signs of arson were found at the Detroit Transportation Depot, where, last week, eight Detroit city buses were destroyed? Given that the city was involved in a contentious battle with city bus mechanics at the time, it seemed arson might be to blame.

  15. Meta
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Tom Walsh in the Free Press:

    Nothing more starkly illuminates the dire dilemma facing Detroit than these two headlines in today’s Free Press:

    • Light rail plan scrapped

    • Detroit City Council refuses to slash its own budget, perks

    The much ballyhooed Woodward light rail plan was always more important symbolically than it was in terms of its actual projected ridership or the construction jobs it would generate.

    It embodied the elusive dream that private-sector investment from big names — Roger Penske, Dan Gilbert, Peter Karmanos and the Ilitch family — in tandem with support from philanthropic foundations such as Kresge and Hudson-Webber could help ignite an economic rebirth of Detroit along its main artery.

    The magic rail spur could connect blossoming dots of legitimate growth, ranging from big new construction projects underway at Henry Ford and Detroit Medical Center hospitals to dozens of small startups at Techtown and spinoffs from the Quicken Loans family of companies in the downtown buildings that founder Dan Gilbert has been buying and renovating.

    But now light rail for Detroit looks dead, or at best indefinitely sidelined, a casualty of the city’s alarming fiscal free fall.

    How can federal transit officials have faith in the city’s long-term ability to fund and manage a new transit operation, when Detroit can barely keep its sputtering bus system running now? Obvious answer: They can’t.

    Which brings us to the Detroit City Council’s 6-2 vote Tuesday not to cut its own budget by 30% — or more than $4 million.


    In a city on track to run out of cash by April or sooner, a city with crushing unemployment, a growing homeless population as winter looms, a city talking about eliminating hundreds of police and firefighters, council members are quibbling about whether they can scrape by with a few bucks less than the $700,000 each is allotted for their office and staff each year? Really?

    Are they aware that some entire U.S. states, and many cities, manage to function just fine without full-time legislative bodies? Of course they are, but despite all the headlines and wailing and posturing of recent weeks, they obviously have not grasped the gravity of the city’s reality.

    They should be talking about slashing the council budget by 50%, or 75%, or 90%, before pulling a single cop off the street.

  16. alan2102
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Mark: “I don’t see how the state of Michigan can be successful without a functional Detroit, but I guess we’ve decided to take that chance.”

    Note that whether or not Detroit is functional hardly depends on the M-1 line/project. M-1 was an exciting and ambitious prospect, and surely would have had many beneficial effects, but the price was enormous (would you believe FIVE HUNDRED MILLION $$, per the latest estimates), and it in no way addressed Detroit’s fundamental problems.

    Now that it is history, why not take a look at transportation technology that is REALLY futuristic for a large-population, resource-limited world grappling with global warming? I refer, of course, to the numerous brilliant concepts for elevated bike path systems and monorails, costing perhaps 1/100th as much as M-1, and delivering at least 50% (if not 85%) of the benefits and value. In fact, the whole M-1 strip from waterfront to Royal Oak could probably be constructed, as an elevated bike path system, for less than the $10 million cost of MAINTENANCE of M-1 for an entire year! i.e. the entire CAPITAL cost might be less than one-year maintenance of M-1. The most brilliant single idea, I’ll wager, is BTS’s Transglide system (, which has elevated tubes with positive air pressure in both directions, allowing cyclists to cruise along at 20-25 MPH with no more effort than 10 MPH unassisted. Fantastic idea! Would that our “leaders” begin anticipating, holistically, real human needs vis a vis looming economic, resource and environmental realities.

    Elevated bike lanes/paths/tubes, sky-cycle-ways,
    human-powered monorails, etc.:,%202006.pdf

  17. Mr. X
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Did someone say MONORAIL?

  18. Meta
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Maybe not completely dead after all.

    Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing insisted this afternoon that a light rail line for Detroit is still in the cards, backtracking on their decision last month to pull passenger trains out of the mix of modernized transit options they want for the city.

    Snyder and Bing said they’re supporting a plan for a shorter rail line from downtown to the New Center area that would be built as part of a modernized rapid-transit buses crisscrossing the city and suburbs.

    “We see light rail as a part of regional transportation, so light rail is not dead,” Bing said at a news conference with Snyder and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It’s back on the table” but as part of a plan for a wider bus rapid transit system.

    The change of mind came less than a month after Bing and Snyder announced they’d scrapped plans for a longer Woodward Light Rail Project spanning from downtown to 8 Mile Road. The mayor and governor said that a less-ambitious rail line between downtown and the New Center area, about 3.4 miles, could still be built, largely with private funding.

    The surprise announcement revives hopes that Detroit wouldn’t be left again as the only U.S. big city without a rail system either operating or in the works.

    But it marked a return to an earlier proposal by the influential M-1 Rail group of private investors and philanthropic groups — including Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, Roger Penske of Penske Corp., Peter Karmanos of Compuware and the Troy-based Kresge Foundation.

    M-1 Rail initially wanted to build a rail line between downtown and the New Center to spur redevelopment along the lower Woodward corridor. The group begrudgingly accepted the city’s efforts to expand the project north to 8 Mile.

    The M-1 Rail group has 90 days to submit a study to the federal government justifying federal support for the project, including a $25 million grant the feds awarded to Detroit for the larger, cancelled project that would require reapproval for the shorter rail project.

  19. Meta
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    From Crain’s Detroit Business:

    Gov. Rick Snyder is skeptical of a private consortium’s ability to finance, build and operate a streetcar system in downtown Detroit as budgeted, sources have told Crain’s. But his administration is reluctant to make its worries public because the influential group has significant political support in Washington.

    Two sources with knowledge of the situation told Crain’s on the condition of anonymity that Snyder is concerned that the investor group known as M1 Rail cannot build its 3.4-mile line between Hart Plaza and New Center on Woodward Avenue for the $125 million it has advertised.

    M1’s plan is to finance the system with private money from its wealthy members and with federal tax breaks and eventually turn it over to a regional transit authority.

    Key members of the administration, including the governor, consider the M1 project to be a distraction that could jeopardize a plan for a system of high-speed buses in metro Detroit, something proposed by Snyder in December, the sources said.


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