Transit :Development News

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Metro Detroit rail projects begin to take form

After receiving feedback from the community, the Woodward Light Rail project will hopefully be taking another step forward in the next few months in regards to its design.

With several plans suggested, Transportation Riders United (TRU) is advocating that the train run in the left lane of the road whenever possible, instead of sharing the right lane and running the risk of being delayed behind parked cars, buses, and other traffic impediments, says TRU Director Megan Owens.

One of the major details of the plan that still has to be worked out: Where the track should be laid on Woodward? According to TRU's research, a quicker and more reliable system comes from track in the center lane.

"A challenge is finding a balance between being a downtown circulator, and also wanting to have the beginning of real rapid transit," Owens says. "If you're going more than a mile or two, you want it to be quick enough to be convenient for you."

The public comment period ends Monday; visit TRU's website for more information. Owens says it will probably take a few months to compile the information and then proceed.

"We're not quite breaking ground yet, but this is a critical step forward," she says of the light rail.

Other upcoming meetings address Michigan's rail transit from a broader sense. The Michigan Department of Transportation is developing a Michigan State Rail Plan to build a long-term vision for both passenger and freight rail transportation throughout the state; a public meeting is set for 4-7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at Michigan State University's Detroit Center, 3408 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Michigan by Rail is also hosting a public forum Wednesday at Fairlane Center South, at U-M Dearborn, from 6-8 p.m., to discuss present and possible future rail systems.

Amtrak exists for passenger service, plus there are freight tracks, but not really a plan for using that resource throughout the state, Owens says. Wednesday's meeting will discuss some of the places in Michigan people would like to be able to visit by train and how that could best be done. One example is a way to get up north on the weekend without sitting in traffic on I-75.

High-speed regional trains, commuter trains, light rail, and buses all play a part in mass transit. "It really all fits into the similar idea of giving people in Michigan, and in Detroit, choices as to how to get around," she says. "We can't do everything all at once, but it is important to continue to support and advance all these different transportation options."

Plus, the benefits go beyond easy transit: jobs, revitalization of urban areas, decrease in air pollution, and less dependence on foreign oil. "It's costly and complicated to get all the pieces done, but to have the future we want for our city, we really need all these options," Owens says.

Source: Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Inkster, Ypsilanti, Detroit, I-275 trail score pedestrian grants

It's all about the infrastructure. Not only will Inkster build a streetscape project and Detroit a walk/bike path, but because of state and federal grant money, portions of the I-275 Metro Trail will be also be reconstructed. Ypsi even got a slice of the community improvement pie.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced the
federal Transportation Enhancement grants Tuesday, for which Inkster will receive almost $600,000 in state and federal funding for a planned streetscape project. The intersection of Michigan Avenue (US-12) and Inkster Road will be improved about a block in all four directions, with decorative brick pillars, fencing, benches, decorate stamped concrete, and landscaping.

Kimberly Faison, special projects manager for the city of Inkster, says the project will help to define the city’s downtown, at that intersection, with an emphasis on trees, shrubs and perennials. And with traffic whizzing by on Michigan Avenue, "Sometimes our downtown gets missed, especially with the speed," she says. "Our residents have a lot of pride in the community."

The city has also acquired three easements in that area, which will be made into a green space, which will include seating areas.

Improvements done last year, including ramps and cross lights at pedestrian intersections, make the area more walkable, she says, while the streetscape is also expected to help calm traffic. Bus shelters are also a part of the expanded project, and the city hopes to receive future funding for a greenways project down the line.

Faison says Inkster's residents know the city has businesses worth visiting and space worthy of being rehabilitated and reoccupied, and this will help put them on the map. "The project really is exciting for us," she says. "We see this as a shot in the arm."

Elsewhere in the metro area, Detroit will get funding for a nearly 1-mile portion of the Connor Creek Greenway, to include a bike/walk path, seating areas and trees. Eighty percent of the $358,376 will be covered by federal funds, with the rest made up by a match from the city.

Portions of the I-275 Metro Trail, in Canton Township, Van Buren Township, and Romulus, will also be rehabilitated, including the addition of a boardwalk over wetlands and signage. That project is nearly $4 million, covered by federal and state funding.

Finally, Ypsilanti also received a grant for streetscape projects.

Statewide, a total of $10 million was awarded to 11 counties for non-motorized trail improvements, roadway streetscape, parks and water quality.

Source: Kimberly Faison, special projects manager, city of Inkster; Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

MDOT brings Metro Trail to I-275

The state is already planning for improvements to bike paths next year, starting with the "non-motorized spine" linking communities in Wayne County.

In all, about 5.5 miles of the Metro Trail will be reconstructed. Projects will begin in the spring and will include rehab of six bridges and two boardwalks, a new pedestrian signal at Ecorse Road, and new signage.

Work is scheduled on the I-275 Metro Trail (along Hines Drive where needed), and on Michigan Ave. The rehabilitation was made a priority by both the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Metro Region Nonmotorized Advisory Committee, says Kari Arend, an MDOT communications representative, in an e-mail. The path has fallen into disrepair since its construction back in the 1970s, and MDOT began planning efforts to rehabilitate the path about four years ago.

MDOT "recognizes the need to serve a variety of transportation modes," she writes.

Also on the plate is work on I-94 south to the Lower Huron and Willow Metroparks, which includes rehab and connection to those parks.

Metro Trail links not only communities and counties, but other path systems, roads, and future routes. Future plans call for extending the path north up M-5 to link to Oakland County trail systems, and eventually extending the trail into the city of Monroe.

Rehab, with regular maintenance, can extend the trail's life by another 30 to 40 years. "Following completion of the trail upgrades and linkages, it is hoped many more users will use this non-motorized option," Arend writes.

Also planned are extensions of an M-5 project from 13 Mile to 14 Mile and from 14 Mile to Maple Road. Current plans call for the use of Meadowbrook and 13 Mile to connect the M-5 path to the existing I-275 trail, which ends at Meadowbrook in Novi.

Tree, shrubs, and other plants are being incorporated to reduce erosion and improve drainage and aesthetics. Boardwalks will be constructed in wetland areas to avoid damage to the environment.

Source: Kari Arend, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

State Rep. Switalski pushes through Complete Streets law

What makes a street complete -- bike lanes, accessible bus stops, pedestrian crossings?

Yes, yes, and yes. Earlier this month, Michigan became the 14th state to adopt Complete Streets legislation, which incorporates sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, crossing opportunities, and other features that benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and users of public transportation, into road planning.

State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, one of the bill's sponsors, says another thing to consider is the flow of young people leaving Michigan. What he's seeing more and more is young professionals first moving to a new location -- Chicago, say, or the east coast -- and then looking for a job, instead of the other way around.

"They want to live in sustainable communities, to use different modes of transportation to get to work and places of leisure," he says. "In many places in Michigan, there is only one way to get around, by automobile."

"Transportation policy, when it comes to planning our communities, is a critical piece of transforming Michigan into a place that is desirable for young professionals to live, and a piece of the puzzle to turning our economy around."

Switalski explains that the state will develop a model Complete Streets policy for communities to use as a guide to interpret based on their own situations. In the past, the Michigan Department of Transportation hasn't been required to take the communities' desires into consideration; if the community has adopted a Complete Streets policy, they have to work together.

Somewhere, there's a compromise -- there can't be an industrial corridor next to bike trails, but a downtown doesn't have to have a six-lane highway, either. "What this is really doing is putting [forward] a new way of thinking about transportation policy," he says. "This is not a mandate, but a completely different way of looking at possibilities to move people and goods around the state."

Also, cities and townships will be encouraged to look at Complete Streets when updating their master plans.

Cyclists were among the supporters of the bill, as were senior advocates and healthy lifestyle groups. In Switalski's community of Warren, there are many senior citizens that may not have someone to take them to the pharmacy or grocery store.

"A lot of senior citizens feel trapped in their homes," he says. "They don't have options. It's not safe for them to walk across Van Dyke."

Plus, in many new developments, there are no sidewalks or walking paths, which makes it hard for students to even walk to school anymore. "Kids get dropped off or get a bus, but there is no other way," he says. "I believe many, many people will benefit from this [legislation]."

Source: State Rep. Jon Switalski
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Birmingham-Troy transit center preps for fall groundbreaking

The combo rail, bus, car, bike, and pedestrian facility that will serve Birmingham, Troy and the entire area has secured its funding and is now working out the kinks for construction.

The transit center received $8.4 million from the Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year, bringing to the total to about $10 million, more than the $7 million planners hoped to build it with.
Other funds came from stimulus money and Michigan Department of Transportation matches. "We've got more money than we originally anticipated," says Jana Ecker, planning director for city of Birmingham.

Birmingham and Troy had also set aside money to contribute, just in case, but it's looking like that won't be needed after all. "The way things have been going with the funding, I think we're going to be OK," Ecker says.

Planners can't pinpoint a construction schedule yet because it's hard to tell when the Federal Railroad Administration is going to actually deliver the money. "We've been giving them oodles and oodles of paperwork," Ecker says. "It was great when we got all the funding in place, but we still have a lot of hurdles and hoops to jump through to get everything coordinated and wrapped up."

The next site plan review meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8, which should give them preliminary approval. Details have remained mostly unchanged, and include a pedestrian tunnel and areas for traffic from bicycles, automobiles, buses and the planned northern extension of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.
Optimistically, Ecker hopes to see a late fall groundbreaking.

The proposed site is in Birmingham's emerging Rail District. The cities plan to create a transit oriented development district around the station that would roughly be bordered by Crooks, Adams, Maple Road, and Lincoln Street.

Ecker says there will likely be joint planning in the transit center area in the form of a transit center district, which could make help increase development in the surrounding area. "People are so happy to see something's actually going to be done," Ecker says.

Source: Jana Ecker, planning director for city of Birmingham
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Pontiac breaks ground on new transit hub

The new Pontiac Transportation Center, which will be home to both a Greyhound bus and Amtrak train stop, will break ground in about two weeks.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held last week for the new station, which is expected to be completed by next summer. The state is funding the entire $1.4 million cost, says Janet Foran, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The building will have several green features, including a white roof to reflect the sun, and bioswales, natural collection points for rainwater, which then filter it through native plants instead of draining it into the sewer. Lighting will also include compact florescent bulbs.

The actual work is expected to begin in about two weeks. "We hope to have a ribbon cutting next summer," Foran says.

The facility will be at 51000 Woodward Ave. and serve as a hub for mass transit, including Amtrak's Wolverine service to Chicago and Greyhound's eight daily routes through Pontiac. There is also a SMART bus stop within sight of the new facility.

During the construction, passengers for a train or bus will either have to go online or to another facility to buy tickets. The previous transportation center was demolished in 2008.

Source: Janet Foran, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Ford Foundation pledges millions for Woodward light rail

M-1 Rail in Detroit was at the top of the investment list when the Ford Foundation announced it would be injecting $200 million into projects that will promote economic growth across the U.S.

The New York City-based organization plans to invest this money into projects that help both major cities and their suburbs plan for future land-use, enhance transportation, and interweave housing, transportation, and land-use policy. The idea is to help these communities push forward innovative projects that could be used as both economic engines and models for other communities.

The M-1 Rail definitely fits into this category. The three-mile long light rail track on Woodward Avenue between Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard is being privately funded with $125 million from local business interests, foundations, and government agencies. Officials hope to use it as a local match for federal funds to extend the light rail north up Woodward to 8 Mile or even Royal Oak.

The initiative is aiming at communities hardest hit by the fallout of the auto industry crisis. The hope is this money will help local, state, and federal leaders cooperate on and create solutions to revitalize these communities and create jobs as a region.

Other projects mentioned in the Ford Foundation's announcement include redevelopment of the Claiborne corridor in New Orleans and the construction of 25 transit villages along BART in San Francisco's Bay Area. It's also aiming to create regional land banks in the Detroit and Flint areas.

Source: Ford Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rail, international projects dominate TRIP list

Projects centered around rail and international crossings are seen as vital to Michigan's economic recovery, according to a report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit specializing in transportation issues.

The report lists the Top 50 projects that will help boost Michigan's economy. At the top of that list is the publicly-funded Detroit River International Crossing, followed by a couple more projects that connect Detroit and Windsor. Also included are a litany of mass transit plans, including the Woodward light rail (No. 4) and the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line (No. 27).
Others covering Metro Detroit's tri-county area are rapid transit lines along northern Woodward, M-59 and Gratiot Avenue.

These are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and attract billions of dollars in investment. All of them are in some sort of planning stages or political flux.

The DRIC proposal is seen as attracting or preserving up to 25,000 jobs in Michigan. The report also calls for constructing a Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal along with making improvements to both train tracks and local roads, upgrading the Ambassador Bridge, and building a Detroit River Rail Tunnel.

Source: TRIP
Writer: Jon Zemke

MDOT to build bike path along I-275

The rehab of seven miles of bike trail along I-275 in Wayne County got underway this week and promises to make alternative transportation along one of the most heavily traveled corridors much easier.

The $4.1 million project will rehab the trail between Hines Drive and Michigan Avenue. The trail was built in the 1970s and hasn't seen any major infrastructure improvements since. Today it suffers from overgrown vegetation, uneven grades, deteriorating bridges, and cracked asphalt.

"It's in poor condition," says Mike Bellini, transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "It gets worse as you go south."

The project, paid for with federal stimulus funds, is divided into three sections. The first (the northernmost section) will rebuild the trail between Hines and Koppernick. All work should be done by mid-October.

New asphalt will be laid and five bridges rebuilt along the route.

Source: Mike Bellini, transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb County Courthouse offers free Wi-Fi

Jury duty might not exactly be considered fun, but it's getting easier at the newly Wi-Fi-friendly Macomb County Courthouse. It's just one more benefit for downtown Mt. Clemens.

Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh launched the free wireless Internet program at the courthouse this week. The new service allows patrons to surf the web and do things such as look up case status, confirm which judge is hearing a case, and use the Sheriff's online inmate locator. The County Clerk's office is also working to enable online payment of court costs and services.

"We're looking at things that make our services more accessible to the public," Sambaugh says.

The county paid AT&T $15,458 to make the building Wi-Fi friendly and less than $2 a day for the service. It first provided wireless Internet for jurors in 2006 in what turned out to be a string of small amenities that have enhanced the downtown business environment.

Jurors receive pagers so they can shop nearby while waiting to be called to court and can
arrange books from the Mt. Clemens Public Library to be delivered to them at the jury counter. They are also eligible to receive free SMART bus tickets to and from Mt. Clemens.

"It's true," Sambaugh says. "The little things add up."

Carmella Sabaugh, clerk of Macomb County
Writer: Jon Zemke

$8M Midtown Loop greenway project to break ground April 15

Transportation options are multiplying in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood now that construction on the Midtown Loop greenway has begun, allowing the emerging community to establish itself as the Motor City's most dynamic neighborhood.


After seven long years developing plans, raising funds and negotiating easements, University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) is poised to break ground on the Midtown Loop greenway on April 15. The first phase, which runs .85 miles along Kirby between Cass and John R and then south along John R to Canfield, will be complete by October of this year. This fall, a short stretch of the mixed-use path that runs along Canfield between John R and Cass will begin construction and finally, the "loop" will be completed heading north along Cass back to Kirby in the summer of 2011.

Sue Mosey, president of UCCA, says the first phase links together several institutions, which will help generate users right off the bat. The path will link Wayne State University, Detroit Public Library Main Branch, Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Institute of Arts, College for Creative Studies, Detroit Science Center and Detroit Medical Center. "There are enough attractions, enough going on, for people to have an experience, which will encourage people to use it," she says.

Read the rest of the story here.

M1 Rail chief Cullen: The right people are in the room, money is there

If timing isn't everything, then money and leaders probably play a major part, too. All three of those stars are aligning for Detroit's M1 Rail light rail project along Woodward Avenue.


At the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) annual meeting earlier this month, transit was certainly on the agenda. A clip from Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City, a PBS special that first aired nationwide on February 8 and will re-air locally in April, was shown, and director Aaron Woolf said a few words. Many of the other speakers, from Mayor Dave Bing to DDP president Ann Lang also touched on the subject, but it was the primary focus of Matt Cullen's time on the podium. Cullen, you might remember, had a big hand in the development of the Detroit RiverWalk from his position at General Motors and has now made a move over to Quicken Loans, where he is tasked with shepherding the privately financed M-1 Rail project to fruition.

Model D thought it was time to catch our readers up on the project, so we had a little phone chat with Cullen.

Model D: Can you spell out where the M-1 Woodward light rail project currently stands?

Read the rest of the story here.

$21M in stimulus cash for Ann Arbor, Detroit transit

And now it's time for a little love for the buses, the hardworking behemoths chugging away for the Detroit Dept of Transportation and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The two transit agencies received about $21 million in federal stimulus funds last week, with most of that money going toward both areas' bus systems. DDOT received $18.9 million for operating expenses.

It will also facilitate the purchase of the agency's first hybrid buses (four), along with another 42 diesel buses. All 44 are the normal 40-foot long buses.

AATA received about $1 million to upgrade its bus storage area and another $700,000 to redevelop the University of Michigan's Central Campus transit center, which serves buses. The agency used federal stimulus funding last year to purchase four more hybrid buses, which should come online in May.

The entire state of Michigan received a total of $34.6 million in federal stimulus funds for mass transit improvements last week.

Source: U.S. Dept of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Mass transit scores more federal funds for rail, bikes

A pocketful of money is creating big changes to mass transit in Metro Detroit.

First, SMART is installing $20,000 worth of bike racks away from its bus routes across the metro area. Of that, $16,000 is coming from federal Transportation Enhancement funds. The idea is to provide another amenity for bicyclists who ride its buses so they have a safe place to lock up their bike at their final destination.

"A place a rider might take their bike off the bus and ride it to a specific location," says Beth Dryden,
director of external affairs marketing and communications for SMART.

Some of those locations could vary between big-name destinations like Comerica Park in Detroit or smaller, every-day use places like the Wal-Mart/Meijer commercial center on Maple Road in Troy. SMART expects to spend about $500 per bike rack, which could mean about 40 new places for bicyclists to lock up their bikes across the metro area.

That's on top of $25 million in federal stimulus funds the M-1 Rail project received from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. That money is expected to go a long way towards bringing light rail to Woodward Avenue between the Detroit River and New Center. The funds will be primarily used for road improvements along the corridor.

Transportation Riders United is also teaming up with the chambers of commerce from Troy, Birmingham, and Bloomfield to host a transit conference on Friday morning. The idea is to spread the gospel that improving mass transit will pay big dividends for economic development to the local business leaders, owners, and key stakeholders in the community.

Friday's meeting will be held between 7:30 - 9:30 a.m. at the Troy Chamber Office, 4555 Investment Dr., in the Lower Level Meeting Room. For information, click here or contact TRU's Business Outreach Team leader Kevin Smith at or 313 549 2299.

Source: Transportation Riders United and
Beth Dryden, director of external affairs marketing and communications for SMART
Writer: Jon Zemke

It's almost spring, and transit centers are sprouting in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is known for flowers and trees sprouting up in the spring, but you can add transit centers to that list now that U-M is joining AATA, SEMCOG, and the city in making plans for a new transit center.


Transit centers are now development du jour in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan recently unveiled plans to develop its own student-transit center. This plan joins others in the works for the Blake Transit Center, Fuller Road Station, and the new stop for the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.

"Having these stations really transforms our community," says Nancy Shore, executive director of the getDowntown program. "It's really changing the environment so people can be more comfortable when they use these other forms of transportation."

Read the rest of the story here.
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