Blog: Megan Owens

Ironically, early auto workers once rode the streetcar to work in factories. This new model year, facing a crumbled rail system and plant closings, the communities of greater Detroit are assembling a regional transit authority. Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United, outlines a timeline of transit and what's needed to make the jump from jalopy to streamlined bus service and regional light rail.

Post 2: Skeptics, Look Here

In my first post I shared how I plan to personally use the Light Rail once it is built, demonstrating some of the many benefits it will provide to residents, businesses, and visitors alike.  

But many people are still skeptical that it will ever happen, so I want to take a little time today to share what's been done so far and the key steps from here.  

It may feel like we've been talking about Woodward Light Rail forever, probably because we have been.  Since the old streetcar system was dismantled in 1956, there have been proposals and ideas, debates and discussion, all focused on bringing rail transit back to Woodward Avenue.

This current effort really got going in 2006 when the city of Detroit launched a federally-directed "Alternatives Analysis", to determine the best type of rapid transit to build and where in the city to build it.  For over two years, they held public meetings, evaluated bus ridership data, studied population and job density and more, evaluating just about every possible option.  Everything pointed to Light Rail on Woodward Avenue as the key place to start.  So working together with the Federal Transit Administration, they put together a plan to make it happen.

Around the same time, the Regional Transit Coordinating Council's John Hertel met with some of the city's top business leaders and came to the same conclusion – that Detroit needs Light Rail on Woodward Avenue.  But they were skeptical of the city's ability to pull it off and impatient to get it done far faster than the city had proposed.  They put together a plan for a smaller, cheaper Woodward rail option, which became M-1 Rail.  

But it quickly became clear that having two different proposals for the same basic project didn't make sense.  M-1 Rail couldn't be built without city and federal approvals.  Woodward Light Rail needed some additional investment to get major federal funding.  So they agreed to work together to create one project that would achieve all of their goals.

Over the past year, Woodward Light Rail has gone through another federally-required process, called an "Environmental Impact Statement", to finalize the plan and evaluate all potential impacts.  After a lot more public input and expert analysis, the Federal Transit Administration and Woodward Light Rail director signed off on a final decision on the route, alignment, and stop locations, which was announced just last month.  

This is a critical and exciting step, but there are several more key steps to go.  The Woodward Light Rail team is working with the Detroit City Council right now to develop a new Woodward Light Rail authority to manage and construct the project.  This is critical to ensure city bureaucracy doesn't slow down this important project.  While oversight and other specifics need to be agreed upon, it is a critical step to help make this project succeed.

In September, the Federal Transit Administration should sign an official "Record of Decision", enabling the detailed engineering and final design work to go ahead.  The Federal Transit Administration will officially commit the $300 million needed to build the line, if there is strong, broad local support for the plan and all the details have been fully worked out. 

If everything goes right, construction will begin in the next year or two and we'll be riding by 2015.