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University and local leaders reflect on Detroit rail announcement

By Danielle Raykhinshteyn, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 21, 2013

In a star-studded announcement Friday, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced a new mass transit rail system spanning 3.3 miles of Woodward Avenue from New Center — an up-and-coming uptown area — into downtown Detroit. The M-1 Rail is set to receive $25 million in federal funding for construction.

Businesses and foundations in the metro Detroit area will contribute another $100 million toward construction of the rail system.

Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said he views the M-1 Rail as a “key to the puzzle” of building greater public transportation in the southeast Michigan corridor.

He added that the rail should have many positive benefits for University students because the trains will travel to the University’s Detroit Center. Not only that, but New Center — the starting point of the M-1 Rail — is also an Amtrak station.

“Those individuals — students or others — who might travel and utilize the existing Amtrak schedule can also be assisted with the potential of the brightening of their transportation access up and down the M-1 corridor,” Kosteva said.

Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) said in a statement that the installation of the M-1 Rail will bring about 2,000 new jobs to the Detroit area.

“For far too long, Detroit has been one of the only major cities in this country without a source of mass transit — but that ends today,” Dingell said. “Those who have helped move this project forward at every turn understand that it will help bring opportunity to this great city in business recruitment, foot traffic in our stores and shops, and reliable, modern transportation that folks can rely on.”

In addition to funding the M-1 Rail, the U.S. Department of Transportation will also contribute $6.5 million public busing in the region.

“This much needed funding will help to improve and expand service throughout southeast Michigan, allowing residents with more access to opportunities throughout the region and allowing all who visit to see all that our area has to offer,” Dingell said.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said that permanent and useful transportation like the M-1 Rail is key in urban development. He said Detroit’s investment in the automobile, which resulted in building major highways, has destroyed communities and hampered downtown activity.

“You’re talking about everything that’s downtown in terms of arts, entertainment and sports, so there’s a lot of interest,” Irwin said.

Irwin noted that if the rail service is successful, taxpayers would most likely have to fund the project through a new tax. However, he believes that it is an important investment for the state in the long run.

“Instituting service from New Center all the way down to the river through Wayne State — through Midtown — is a huge benefit to folks in Ann Arbor if we’re able to get (an) Ann Arbor to Detroit rail project going,” Irwin said.

Irwin said he hopes to see the line grow to more than a meager 3.3 miles.

He added that unlike the governor, has sees benefit in investment in tail systems, not buses, Snyder intends to meet public transit needs primarily with busing, but Irwin added that he doesn’t see busing as an ideal form of transportation.

“The governor’s idea that we can bring buses from Detroit off the highway down Washtenaw Avenue during rush hour is just a fantasy,” Irwin said. “The idea that that would be a rapid and valuable upgrade to the service the citizens currently have — it’s just wrong.”