The business case for transit: business and philanthropic efforts pair to move forward on mass transit in the region.

Author:Scott, Mike
Position:VOTE4BIZ
 
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Aplan to construct a 13-station high-speed rail system in central Detroit along Woodward Avenue could be less than two years from reality.

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That is one project that is part of a larger transit plan for Southeastern Michigan being developed by the Regional Transit Coordinating Council (RTCC), the official regional transit plan for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The goal of this umbrella plan is to enhance and expand existing transit service, introduce new rapid transit service and identify funding sources.

SEMCOG is also heavily involved in regional transit discussions, given that the organization creates an updated long-term transportation plan every five years. Its plan will help direct how best to spend roughly $1 billion a year in state and federal transportation funds for southeast Michigan over the next 25 years.

Yet one of the most important stakeholders in the development of a light rail system is the area's business community. Many influential business leaders have been and are currently involved in ongoing discussions about how such a rail system can support the interests of such business and employees.

The timeline for the Woodward light rail system is admittedly an aggressive one, said Matt Cullen, CEO of M1-Rail, a consortium that has been set up to execute the creation of a rail that would run from Hart Plaza to Grand Boulevard along Woodward. The estimated $ 120 million project is in the design and engineering phase and is supported by some of the area's most influential business leaders.

Ultimately this stretch of rail would tie into the Amtrak system westward to Ann Arbor and Chicago and eastward to Royal Oak and Birmingham, Cullen said. The $120 million will be raised through a combination of selling the naming rights to the stations, a $ 35 million funding offered by the Kresge Foundation and other tax credits and funding mechanisms.

Nearly 10 of the 13 proposed stations have received offers to purchase naming rights by such businesses as Penske Automotive, lllitch Holdings and Rock Financial, along with Wayne State University, Cullen said.

"Nothing is finalized yet and there is still a lot to do but you could say we are at the end of the beginning," Cullen said. "I'm very confident this will happen."

Having the train run from Hart Plaza to Grand River is phase one of the proposed Ml-Rail project. Phase two would include tracks that continue further north up Woodward to 11 Mile, Cullen said.

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