ray lahood

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - University of Michigan and state government officials aim to have a 32-acre driverless car test site running by September - in time for a global conference on intelligent transportation systems.

Gov. Rick Snyder and other state and university officials gathered Tuesday at Detroit's auto show to outline plans for the Mobility Transformation Facility, a $6.5 million site on the Ann Arbor university's North Campus.

It will offer a simulated urban environment with roads, intersections, building facades, traffic circles and a hill.

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Detroit for the tenth time Monday to talk about the region’s mass transit future.

LaHood met with Governor Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing, and state lawmakers, and again made clear that the federal government is willing to put money into a regional transportation authority (RTA) for Detroit.

But Lansing hasn’t acted on bills to create an RTA to run that system.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is in Michigan today touting a major advance in Smart Car technology.

By October, three thousand cars, trucks and buses outfitted with a special Wi-Fi system will travel around Ann Arbor as part of a one year test of the system.

A few hundred are already on the road.

LaHood says the Smart Car system allows vehicles to “talk” to each other and hopefully avoid accidents.

A proposed light rail project on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue won’t be getting millions in federal transit dollars—for now.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood awarded the so-called M-1 project a $25 million TIGER grant in 2010. But late last year, LaHood, Governor Snyder, and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing decided that money would be better spent on a regional rapid bus system.

Since then, M-1’s private backers—who have pledged millions toward the 3.4-mile span connecting downtown Detroit and the New Center area—have rallied to re-gain government support for the project.

Back in the days when the Big Three really were the BIG Three, Detroit may have been the most hostile place in the nation to mass transit. The city existed to create private transportation for all. You were expected to have your own wheels. Well, the world has changed, and estimates indicate that more than a third of Detroiters have no cars these days, and many more would like to take mass transit when they can -- especially downtown.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will visit Detroit today. He’ll meet with a wide-ranging group of government officials and business leaders on the future of light rail transit in the city. The M-1 project on the main thoroughfare of Woodward Avenue could eventually connect with a regional system.

Governor Rick Snyder plans to attend. He says light rail is part of a strategy to make Michigan’s largest city as attractive to entrepreneurs and young people as Chicago or Boston.

Transit advocates in Detroit are happy that a proposal for light rail along Woodward Avenue is still alive.

Federal, state, and city officials had nixed the plan late last year in favor of a Bus Rapid Transit system.

But after pushback from the line’s private backers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave them a deadline to put forth a “feasible” plan.

This week, LaHood extended that deadline about a month. He also told The Detroit News that he's "still optimistic" about the project.

Megan Owens, director of the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United, says the current proposal is for a shortened line serving Detroit’s downtown—but that’s ok.

“Light rail, or streetcars, can not only provide a great transit option for getting around the downtown-Midtown-New Center areas--but can also be a great way to boost re-development in those communities,” Owens said.

The extension also gives state lawmakers time to move bills to form a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan.

Such an authority is a key condition for federal transit aid to Metro Detroit.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood plans to visit General Motors Co. plants in Flint and Bay City on Wednesday to discuss the Obama administration's manufacturing job programs.

The stops are in the morning at the Flint plant and in the afternoon at the Bay City plant. LaHood's office says he'll hear reports on GM's plans to expand its production at the plants.

GM recently announced a $109 million plan for engine production for fuel-efficient cars such as the Chevrolet Volt. That plan will add or retain about 100 jobs in Flint and Bay City. The Flint assembly plant is also added a third shift to increase production of Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Michigan will get just under $200 million to boost rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the official announcement alongside state and local officials in Detroit Monday.

The federal money comes with no strings attached. Officials say it will let them upgrade a stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

user amtrak_russ / Flickr

Passenger rail in Michigan will get some upgrades because of a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Most of $199 million granted to the state will go toward improving the rail lines between Detroit and Chicago so passenger trains can travel faster.

The improvements are expected to allow trains to travel at top speeds of 110 m.p.h. rather than 95 m.p.h. The Department of Transportation says the improvements will cut 30 minutes off the time to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

Senators Levin and Stabenow put out a press release this morning with some of the details of the plan.

They say the track will be improved between Kalamazoo and Dearborn:

[the] rail project will rehabilitate track and signal systems to allow trains to travel at 110 mph for the 135-mile stretch. The current obsolete signal system will be replaced with a positive train control system, improving safety. The grant fully funds the state's request.

Levin and Stabenow say $2.8 million in Recovery Act funds will also be used to start the process of building a new train station in Ann Arbor:

The Ann Arbor Station's $2.8 million will be used to complete a preliminary engineering and environmental study required to design and construct a new high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor Station is the busiest Amtrak station in Michigan, but only has single-tracking capacity, forcing intercity trains to block the mainline while serving the station. By constructing a passing track, more than one train will be able to service the station while others can pass unimpeded.

The money being spent in Michigan is part of $2 billion in new spending on rail service across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation made the spending announcements today.

Rail passengers in Michigan will see new locomotives and passenger cars as a result of the spending. Seven higher-speed locomotives and 48 new passenger cars will run between Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is attending the press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scheduled for today at 2:30 today in Detroit. We'll hear more from her later.