DETROIT (WXYZ) - A plan to build a light rail system along Woodward Avenue in Detroit has been derailed.
According to sources familiar with the Woodward Light Rail Project, federal funding for the plan is being pulled and the project is dead.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with members of the Michigan Congressional delegation Wednesday to inform them of the decision not to support the project.
A high-speed bus system has been suggested instead of the rail plan.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing calls the decision a positive development. Speaking at an event honoring bus drivers, the Mayor told reporters, "This will serve more people" and "be more cost effective."
Bing says a regional bus system would run major lines down Woodward, Gratiot, Michigan and "hopefully" Grand River. The mayor said Wednesday that Governor Rick Snyder has been talking with the Transportation Secretary, as well as the area's four County Executives regarding the region's transportation future.
Senator Carl Levin had a different view. “I continue to believe that a world-class transit system that includes light rail along the Woodward Avenue corridor can deliver significant economic benefits to Detroit and the region," he said in a statement.
"I support the efforts of private investors to preserve the viability of the light-rail project. Today I asked Secretary LaHood to delay any decision until the investors’ ideas and concerns, outlined in their letter to Governor Snyder and Mayor Bing, receive a response. I will make the same request of the mayor and the governor,” Levin said.
The Woodward M1 rail project would have been built in two stages. Initially, the rail line was expected to stretch from downtown Detroit north to the city's New Center area. A second stage would have taken the rail line all the way to Detroit's Eight Mile Road border, with the ability to expand beyond into the suburbs.
This summer, a final environmental impact study determined details of the rail line . The project would have had nineteen passenger stations. In the downtown area it was set to turn west down Congress to Washington Boulevard, then north to the Rosa Parks Transit Center. From the transit center it would have then headed south on Washington Boulevard to Larned, east on Larned to Woodward and then north on Woodward to Eight Mile Road.
Given Detroit's financial situation, high-speed buses would be a less costly alternative to constructing a rail line along Woodward and - some know say - they could meet the transportation needs of more people.
Megan Owens of Transportation Workers United does not believe that buses are the answer to metro Detroit's future mass transit needs.
"This is an outrage," she said. "Mayor Bing has tossed away a $3 billion economic development opportunity that could have been the centerpiece of Detroit's revitalization."
The light rail project would have cost $500 million, but the city had already received a $25 million federal grant to help fund the first stage of the build.
Private funding had also been committed to the project. This summer, speculation over the new location of a hockey stadium was fueled by the involvement of Mike Ilitch, chairman of Ilitch Holdings, which is the parent company to Olympia entertainment, which operates the Joe Louis Arena.
Given Detroit's economic crisis, concerns surfaced that the city would be unable to fund the cost of maintaining the rail system financially.
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