August 6, 2010
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this week that the Woodward Avenue light rail project is starting the required environment study process needed to qualify for federal funding. The Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact study was placed in the July 30, 2010 Federal Register. This is the first step in the environmental impact statement process, just one of several requirements needed to qualify the project for federal funding.
The environmental impact study is expected to take 12-18 months. It will identify alternatives, costs, and issues with the proposed 9.3-mile rail line that would start in Hart Plaza and extend to the city limit at Eight Mile Road. The Detroit Department of Transportation will be the lead agency.
The project can be broken into two sections – what has been called the M1 project – from the riverfront to New Center and then New Center to Eight Mile Road. The M-1 portion is important for several reasons. For starters, the private sector has raised about $125 million to build the first section of the project. Those dollars can also be used as soft match for the federal dollars needed to build the rest of the system.
Let’s be clear, there are still several hurdles to clear. Legislation to form a Regional Transit Authority has stalled in Lansing. This is important because we are ultimately trying to build a system – the first leg of it may be to Eight Mile, but it needs to go beyond Eight Mile and an RTA is needed to ensure the implementation of the overall plan. Funding is also going to be important – both to cover the rest of the match for anticipated federal funds and to cover the operating deficit. But, with everyone pitching in, the help of the federal and, hopefully, state government, and the business community all working together – we can do this! We have to do it and the time is now.
As I was starting my career at SEMCOG in 1975, SEMTA, the regional transit authority was in the final months of designing and engineering a light rail system down Woodward. This is as close as we have come to building the first part of a system since those days in 1975. Here we are again. The time is now – we may never get another chance.