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Michigan’s long-suffering mass transit plans may be inching closer to reality

From Grand Rapids to Detroit, gas prices make initiatives more alluring
Sky-high gasoline prices may have a silver lining as mass transit proposals see a resurgence in public interest. Reports throughout the summer indicate that vehicle miles traveled dropped significantly in Michigan and nationally, while ridership of busses, trains and commuter pools is on the rise. The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) continues to monitor and work as a catalyst for several transit alternatives. Below are updates on recent progress, complete with a thicket of acronyms!

Grand Rapids Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  BRT is a fixed-route bus line that would stop at dedicated raised platform stations. The Grand Rapids proposal, to be operated by The Rapid (which has one of the nation’s only LEED certified transit stations) would run for almost 10 miles on South Division and parts of downtown.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has approved the project. The project’s estimated price tag is $36.67 million. The Rapid reported to MEC that it has a letter of commitment from MDOT for $8 million. This should be sufficient to access $29 million in FTA New Start money, which needs to be appropriated in the FY 2010 budget. The remainder is to be made up through local millages. Tentative completion date is 2013.
Ann Arbor—Howell Commuter Rail (Wally). This proposal will run for 27 miles, from Ann Arbor to Howell, and carry an estimated 2,700 passengers per weekday in the first year. It will cost an estimated $32.4 million and will run along existing track.
The feasibility study was completed in June. It will take 16 months from project start to finish. Major bridge reconstruction is slated for three bridges on US-23 in 2010; that could be a potential completion date for Wally. The coordinator of the project indicated to MEC that there were two barriers still in place: a legal authority to operate the line and a strong commitment from Livingston County. Funding has not been secured.

Ann Arbor—Metro Airport—Detroit Commuter Rail.  This concept was approved by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) General Assembly in June. This line will be operated by Amtrak as a demonstration project until sufficient ridership can be proven and a dedicated line can be funded. SEMCOG reported to MEC that it will be operational by 2010.

Woodward Ave Light Rail (LTR).  This project, operated by the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), will cost $371 million and run about 8 miles along Woodward Ave., from downtown to the State Fairgrounds. DDOT estimates that it will complete 11,100 rider round trips per day. The project was approved by the SEMCOG General Assembly in June. If progress continues as scheduled, construction will begin in 2009 and will be completed by 2011.
-Tim Fischer, Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: land use, transportation policy
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