Feds: We need to see more before we put money in Detroit light rail

Jun 4, 2012

Elected leaders and private backers of the proposed Woodward Avenue light rail line met with federal transit officials in Detroit Monday.

They left that meeting with yet another 60-day deadline to try and secure federal funding.

The so-called M-1 light rail project has had a lot of dramatic ups and downs in the past few months. Governor Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing—at US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s urging—decided to switch an initial federal grant for the project to a regional rapid bus system in January.

But M-1’s private backers—including Detroit businessmen Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert--have continued to push for the project. And leaders were hoping to announce they’d been cleared for a $25 million federal TIGER grant Monday.

But the meeting with LaHood and other federal transportation officials in Bing’s  office apparently got contentious at times.

Federal officials are worried the rail proposal still lacks some key elements—including a regional transit authority to fund and operate it.

Post-meeting, Governor Snyder tried to strike an optimistic tone.

 “It was a very good, productive meeting. I thought it was very thoughtful, it was a great dialogue,” Snyder said. “There are a handful of questions, just 4 or 5 questions dealing with operating costs, capital costs…things we should answer.”

Bing says despite this additional hold-up, LaHood is still behind Woodward light rail. “He’s made the commitment that they’re going to support the project,” Bing said.

Bing, Snyder and Penske said they’ll work on addressing those concerns before the two sides meet again in 60 days.

The current M-1 proposal would extend just 3.4 miles down Woodward, connecting downtown Detroit and the New Center area.

So far, it’s backed almost entirely by private money.