If you build it right, they will fund

If Detroit scraps light rail for bus rapid transit, the government will foot some of the bill

Transportation Management News Detroit News December 14, 2011
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The Obama administration and the city of Detroit are planning to announce that they will nix plans for a light rail in Detroit in favor of a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, the Detroit News reported.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff will outline a bus system as part of a regional transportation plan in a meeting with Michigan members of Congress Wednesday.


LaHood told The Detroit News on Tuesday the Obama administration is willing to commit "millions of dollars" to help fund a regional transportation authority in southeast Michigan if leaders finalize a plan.


Detroit has signficant financial issues, and a BRT system is far cheaper than building a light rail system along Woodward Avenue and could serve far more people, officials said.


Last week, LaHood met with Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and state transportation officials to talk about transit issues. LaHood and Bing both agreed that the BRT is a more regional approach to area transit.


Dan Lijana, a spokesman for Bing, confirmed rapid transit buses were part of a transit plan being considered but would not say the city was scrapping the light rail plan altogether.


"More than 50 percent of working Detroiters are employed outside the city, and we need to provide the most effective means of transportation, and most efficient, that we can, Lijana said.


"We pretty much signed off on their plan," LaHood said Tuesday. "If this happens, we're going to put an enormous amount of money on the table for this because we believe this is the best way to deliver transit services to the people of the Detroit Metro area."


Detroit began planning for a light rail line along Woodward in 2006. The city has already received a $25 million federal grant to help fund the first stage of a 9.3-mile project that was expected to cost $500 million, but it was unclear where the city would get additional matching and operating funds.


Since the mid-1970s, leaders in Michigan have unsuccessfully sought to create a regional transportation authority more than 20 times. The region is the largest U.S. metro area without high-capacity rapid transit service or a system under development.


Michigan has secured roughly $500 million in federal and state money for rail transportation over the past two years to improve speeds, rebuild train stations and make track improvements on Amtrak's Detroit-to-Chicago line.


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