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
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