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Federal grant funds speedier trains between Dearborn and Kalamazoo

A 135-mile stretch of railway that runs from Dearborn to Kalamazoo will undergo $9 million in improvements to prepare it for a 110-mph regional commuter rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

The federal TIGER grant announced this week is one of several meant to create jobs and improve mass transit infrastructure in the Midwest and across the country. The Michigan Department of Transportation will oversee the project.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Service will run on an AMTRAK line that will eventually provide higher-rate service on a Pontiac and Ann Arbor line through Michigan, to Chicago and other parts of Illinois and Indiana.

“These transformational TIGER projects are the best argument for investment in our transportation infrastructure,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement announcing a total of $474 million in grants. “Together, they support President Obama’s call to ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.”

In Dearborn, where an intermodal passenger rail station is to open in mid-2014 on Michigan Avenue near Brady, mass transit improvements are seen as a way to "draw more visitors, businesses and residents" and "support the city's largest institutions and their employees: Ford, U-M Dearborn and The Henry Ford: America's Greatest History Attraction," says Dearborn Mayor John B. O'Reilly.

Source: Nick Schirripa, spokesperson, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

Local leaders honored at 2nd annual Regional Transit Awards dinner

With southeast Michigan's Regional Transit Authority underway and M1-Rail about to break ground, a crowd of over 150 transit advocates had considerable cause for a buoyant mood as they strolled the stately gardens and ballroom of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial at Transit Riders United's second annual Regional Transit Awards dinner on May 21st.
 
"Developing a quality regional transit system is a marathon, not a sprint," said Megan Owens, TRU's Executive Director. "It's important to pause and recognize progress, and the people who are making a difference."
 
The Citizen Activist of the Year Award went to Neil Greenburg, whose Freshwater Railway website depicts a fictional Michigan rail system. Greenberg, a self-taught professional transit cartographer and operations consultant, developed the site to garner support for transit by offering a visual experience of the possibilities. Tools to rally public support are needed now more than ever, according to Greenberg.
 
"It's too early to say 'Mission Accomplished'," he said.  "We are at the beginning, not the end."
 
Michele Hodges, who until recently served as Executive Director of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, won the Corporate Transit Champion Award for engaging business, education, and labor leaders in the successful fight against former Troy mayor Janice Daniel's attempt to reject federal funding for the Troy Transit Center.
 
The Unsung Hero Award went to former legislator Marie Donigan, who worked to establish the RTA and make state laws and funding sources friendlier to transit. Donigan continues her transit advocacy work, recently helping to coordinate a 2-day Metro Detroit Transit Workshop.
 
Dennis Schornack, Senior Strategic Advisor to Governor Snyder, won Most Effective Public Servant Award for his work shepherding the RTA legislation through the political process.
 
A Transit Employee of the Year Award went to Detroit Department of Transportation bus driver Michael Childs, who was nominated by a rider for being on-time with a big, welcoming smile every day, despite an increased workload owing to recent cuts in DDOT funding and service.
 
Ann Arbor Transit Authority's new AirRide program, which now provides daily round-trip service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport, won the Exemplary Innovation Award.
 
The TRU board sprung two surprises: a Transit Opportunities Award for the entire RTA Board, and an Above and Beyond Award for Owens for her work at TRU.
 
Winners were selected by a panel of 4 judges, including Clark Harder, former legislator and Michigan Public Transit Association Executive Director, Heather Carmona, chief administrative officer of M1 Rail, Sue Zielinsli, managing director of Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility & Research & Transformation at the University of Michigan, and Polly Sedewa, transit activist and past TRU board member.

Writer: Nina Ignaczak 

Growing ridership on Amtrak may translate to a train-ready region

State transportation officials see record Amtrak ridership in Michigan as a sign that the public is more aware of train service and seeing the future of commuter train travel in a more positive light.

In 2012, 792,769 passengers boarded Michigan's three Amtrak routes -- the Wolverine between Pontiac and Detroit/Chicago), the Blue Water between Port Huron and East Lansing/Chicago), and the Pere Marquette between Grand Rapids and Chicago. In 2011, that number was 780,655.

The record ridership also led to record revenue of $27.8 million in 2012, a year that had Amtrak adding extra trains to supplement the regular service.

It comes as plans to bring light rail in to Woodward Avenue downtown Detroit move toward implementation and a move to bring a regional commuter train system to metro Detroit and to Michigan and nearby states moves from a limp to a steady walk. Both are aided by federal funds from a program that endorses mass transit development as an economic stimulant. But with Michigan being a stronghold for auto travel, it's been a tough sell in some parts.

At the same time, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation have been updating trains and making changes to allow for faster travel speeds and fewer route interruptions that will in turn make train travel more appealing.


Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Janet Foran, spokesperson, Michigan Department of Transportation

Come talk about Rapid transit along the Woodward Corridor

As regional transit authority legislation moves through Lansing, plans are going forward to bring rapid transit to the 27-mile stretch of the Woodward Avenue Corridor from Jefferson Avenue in Detroit to downtown Pontiac.

Several meetings will be hosted by the Woodward Avenue Action Association, the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and are part of an "alternative analysis, the first step in the process of developing a transit system," says Richard Murphy, programs director Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

The meetings, especially the comments from attendees, will be folded in with technical data, cost and other considerations, he says, as decisions about the exact route, the technology to be used, the station locations as well as connections to the M-1 Rail Streetcar project, high speed rail service and Complete Streets are wrapped into an overall plan.

"We’ll be talking about the purpose and need for the project…What is it that we need transit to do on Woodward and laying out the roadmap for the rest of the work. Over the course of 2013, we’ll have
additional meetings around major steps in the process," Murphy says.

Upcoming meetings are:

Thursday, December 6, 5-7 p.m., Baldwin Public Library, 300 West Merrill Street, Birmingham.
Tuesday, December 11, 4-6 p.m., Detroit Palmer Park Police Station, 12th Precinct, 1441 W. Seven Mile Road.
Wednesday, December 12, 6-8 p.m., Ferndale Public Library, 222 E. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
Saturday, December 15, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Bowen Senior Center, 52 Bagley Street, Pontiac.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Richard Murphy, programs director, Michigan Suburbs Alliance

Changes to Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago rail line topic of state DOT meetings

As plans to improve a 304-mile stretch of passenger rail line that runs through Michigan, Illinois and Indiana move forward, the public is invited to participate in the process that determines what the local impact will be.

For metro Detroiters, the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Passenger Rail Corridor could offer connections to places that improve economic situations or quality of life, but it could also affect neighborhoods.

A series of meetings will be held this month and hosted by the three states' Departments of Transportation. The meetings will explain more about the proposal to make changes to the line and also take comments from the public. They will also offer possible route alternatives and identify potential issues that should be considered in the planning. They are required as part of the plan formation and environmental impact assessment to be done before construction can begin.

The rail improvements come as several metro Detroit communities, including Detroit, Pontiac, Troy, Dearborn, and the federal government have invested in new transportation stations that have brought economic benefit to cities around the
country by opening up access to jobs, education and affordable transportation.

According to GreatLakesRail, "the purpose of the program is to improve intercity mobility by providing an improved passenger rail service that would be a competitive transportation alternative to automobile, bus and air service between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac…The program will provide sufficient information for the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) to potentially support future decisions to fund and implement a major investment in the passenger rail corridor."

The local meeting will be held Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 pm. at the Double Tree Hilton Hotel, 5801 Southfield Expressway, Detroit.

Comments about the changes can also be shared online at GreatLakesRail.org or by telephone, 877-351-0853.

Source: Janet Foran, communications, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

$15.8 million project will bring Amtrak riders their own line from Pontiac to Chicago

A $15.8 million project will add a new track between Detroit and Dearborn, giving Amtrak passengers and freight cars their own dedicated lines.

The changes to the West Detroit Connection Track, which is the key link between the new Dearborn multi-modal transportation station and Detroit's station downtown, were OK'd by the federal Department of Transportation last week. Feds will pay for half the project and the Michigan Department of Transportation will pay the other half as they look for ways to alleviate a bottleneck on portions of the track.

The West Detroit Connection Track is also a key part of the Detroit to Chicago line, known as Amtrak's Wolverine line.

The project, which will break ground later this year, will alleviate a bottleneck that is increasing waiting times for trains, costing companies money and slowing down travelers.

Carmine Palombo, director of transportation programs for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, says the changes make sense economically because they allow goods and people to move more quickly and efficiently.

"When you have 10 minute and more delays that are caused by the bottleneck that is there now, that is huge," Palombo says.

But metro Detroit and Michigan are still a long way off from trains carrying coffee-drinking, newspaper reading commuters. Improvements such as new stations, including in Dearborn, Detroit, Troy and Pontiac, as well as changes to increase train speeds up to 110 mph, are lining up to make Michigan a train-riding state.

"It's all part of the overall series of events to improve passenger service," he says.

As of now, the line is mostly for travelers and freight. He says a commuter train between Detroit and Ann Arbor is inching along but still far from a done deal.

"Part of what happens now is existing Amtrak trains start in Pontiac and go to Chicago…The problem is the times are not conducive for a lot of commuters .. The times are geared for getting you to Chicago, not points in between. And the costs are not necessarily in step with what commuters want to pay."

He says legislation that will have the state of Michigan financially supporting the train service could change that.
"When that happens we can have a little more say in the schedules and how that service is run," Palombo says.

In the meantime, the feds, who are executing President Barak Obama's High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, see the project as a way to address congestion of the Midwest Regional Rail Network and promote alternative forms of transportation and to create jobs and spur economic development.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation and Carmine Palombo director of transportation programs, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments
Writer: Kim North Shine

Construction begins on $28.2 million transportation station in Dearborn

Ground was broken Tuesday on a $28.2 million station to be used for multiple modes of transportation and a crucial link in regional mass transit.

The Intermodal Passenger Rail Station will be built at 20201 W. Michigan Ave., west of the Southfield Freeaway at the entrance of west downtown Dearborn.

Besides being a crucial link for Amtrak service and local bus services, the 16,000-square-foot glass-and-brick, historical-meets-contemporary structure will serve as a station for all types of transportation public and private.

There will be Wi-Fi service for passengers, bicycles racks, and interior design that highlights Dearborn's history and best-known institutions. The exterior will be a mix of contemporary design elements and historic features of landmark train stations. There will be a pedestrian bridge and a clock tower. In addition, it will be built with green features such as a solar collectors on the rooftop, rain gardens and energy efficient heating and cooling.

Construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013. About 280 temporary construction jobs will be created and 25 permanent employees, some full-time, some part-time, will be needed to operate the station. Federal Department of Transportation and economic stimulus funds are paying for the project.

Locally, it will be a convenient source of transportation for employees of some of the city's major institution and for visitors to its tourist attractions.

Regionally, it "will serve as a rail gateway to Dearborn and Southeast Michigan," according to an announcement released by the city Tuesday, the day a ceremony celebrating the ground breaking at The Henry Ford.

"The important transportation link will allow thousands of passengers per year to make connections to Amtrak’s Wolverine service that extends from Pontiac to Chicago; as well as to SMART, DDOT, Greyhound and charter buses; corporate and hotel shuttles; taxis and personal vehicles.

The station is positioned to support the eventual operation of the Detroit to Chicago High Speed Rail Corridor, which already has seen progress in western Michigan.

"It will also serve the proposed Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail line. Eventually, the commuter rail line will allow easy bus connection to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The station’s proximity to the Rouge River Gateway Trail on the north side of Michigan Avenue in Dearborn should prove popular to pedestrians and bicyclists and provide easy access to the campuses of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford Community College," the statement went on to say.

It's a massive overhaul and ambitious project for a site previously used to only to store vehicles.

Source: City of Dearborn Department of Public Information
Writer: Kim North Shine

Regional mass transit effort expands to include all of Woodward Ave.

An effort to further study and coordinate mass transit options for the Woodward Avenue corridor from Detroit to Birmingham has expanded to include all of Woodward from the Detroit River to Pontiac.

Originally, the four-month-old group effort that includes the Oakland County Woodward-area suburbs of Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Huntington Woods, Royal Oak, Berkley and Birmingham focused on extending a mass transit line that would end at Woodward and 8 Mile to Birmingham. But a $2 million federal transportation grant, a change in design of the Woodward light rail line in Detroit, as well as a push by state and federal officials to create a truly regional rapid mass transit system for southeast Michigan broadened the focus area to include the entire 27-mile stretch of Woodward.

The Michigan Suburbs Alliance, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Woodward Avenue Action Association are working with the original steering committee and inviting all other communities along the route to join in. There will also be opportunity for public input as the planning process moves along.

The grant comes from the Federal Transportation Administration and pays for what's known as an Alternative Analysis, a required part of any mass transit development. It comes after the state legislature passed a bill to create an RTA, a Regional Transportation Authority that would cover Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties and coordinate local bus systems and oversee creation of a rapid transit network. SEMCOG will manage the grant and work to ensure that any plans to come out of the broader effort coordinate with all other work underway in the region.

The larger focus comes as mass transit planners and proponents in Detroit have changed plans for a Woodward light rail line to a downtown circulator system.

Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association, says the effort goes beyond transit. “We’re working with the cities to make Woodward work for everyone who travels along it, and at connecting all transportation modes to economic development opportunities.”

Richard Murphy, transportation director at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, says in a statement announcing the new, broader approach: “Detroit and the Oakland County suburbs recognize that better transit on Woodward will spur economic development both north and south of Eight Mile—but they need a regional transit authority to build and run the system. Governor (Rick) Snyder has proposed that the RTA work towards a rapid transit network including Woodward Avenue, and this alternatives analysis will let them move quickly towards that goal."

Source: Carmine Palombo, director of transportation planning, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and Lori Elia Miller, marketing and communications manager, Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

$19.8 million loft/retail project pumping up downtown Pontiac

Construction has begun on a loft and retail project that is the largest construction development in downtown Pontiac in 30 years.

The building of Lafayette Place Lofts, a project of Pontiac-based West Construction Services, began last week at the site of the prominent and shuttered Sears department store on Saginaw, Lafayette and Perry streets, a part of the city's historic commercial district. The completion date is set for December, possibly sooner, says Kyle Westberg, owner of West Construction Services.

The 46 upscale-style, affordably-priced units will be spread over two and three floors taking up 80,000 square feet. They will sit atop two 10,000-square-foot businesses on the ground floor -- Anytime Fitness, a fitness center that will be a first for the city, and, Lafayette Market, a fresh food market and cafe. There will be 31 indoor parking spaces.

The project is a historic preservation and will include energy efficiency measures such as geothermal and photovoltaic power as well as the use of recycled and sustainable materials.

The $19.8-million project is funded in part by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program through the Michigan Land Bank and also through New Markets tax credits from the Michigan Magnet Fund.

"Lafayette Place Lofts multi-use development is a game-changer for downtown Pontiac, bringing great new living, working and shopping opportunities," Oakland County Treasurer and Michigan Land Bank Board Chairman Andy Meisner says in a statement detailing the project.

Magnet Fund Chief Business Development Officer Al Bogdan describes the lofts as "an innovative project that will stimulate Pontiac's downtown with new businesses and new residents."

KeyBank Community Development Lending, which is providing bridge financing, compliments the project for its affordability and plan to improve the health of local residents.

West says he, investors and local officials see this as a great time to invest in downtown Pontiac as dozens of companies from individually-owned to corporate-run have moved in or stepped up business. A number of other programs by local community and business development organizations are seeing success in the city, and investments in mass transit and by local health systems are bringing positive change to a town that's gone broke and been taken over by the state.

He says there's much for potential residents to be attracted to.

"From this location, you can get to about seven counties in a 45 minute-drive…We can hit 3 1/2 to 4 million people," West says. "We love the idea of being so centralized ... not only to the freeways, but the buses, the train from the new transit center, and the bike path ... You can reach hundreds of miles of bike path from downtown if you want…When you add in the architectural fabric we have, the historic nature we have, the walkable downtown … there is a lot here."

An important aspect, he says, was bringing amenities not found in the city to both residents and employees.

"...For the [60,000 residents, and] the employees -- probably 20,000 -- there is no fitness center. And the fresh food market and cafe downtown, that is something we don't have," West says. "We took a healthful, holistic approach to this development. We hope we're building a catalyst for other development to come to town."

Source: Kyle West, owner, West Construction Services
Writer: Kim North Shine

Scaled-back Troy Transit Center gets OK

After years of planning and the weeks of political controversy that nearly derailed it, the Troy Transit Center is on track to be built and made into a crucial cog in a regional transportation system for metro Detroit and Michigan.

Michele Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which has been a leader on the project since the beginning, says the transit center will "be transformative" not only for the city and the neighborhood at Maple and Coolidge where it will be built, but also for the mass transit system as a whole and for the way public projects such as this are maintained using private sector dollars.

The chamber is lining up funding from local businesses to pay for the operation of the center, which will be built with federal dollars. Originally the center was to cost $8.5 million and be paid for through federal department of transportation funds, but after objections were raised, the city council voted to scale it back to a $6.3 million project.

"Of course we feel the bigger project was the better project," Hodges says. "When you limit the building footprint, you limit space for paying tenants or ad space. However, the essence of leadership is compromise.

"Yes, we had to give, but we still feel we are meeting the ultimate goal, which is to produce an asset that will create jobs, enhance the tax base, and keep Troy as a community of choice," she says.

The Troy Transit Center will be located on the southwest corner of Maple and Coolidge roads and will be multi-modal, meaning it will be used for multiple forms of transportation, namely Amtrak's Wolverine Line which travels to Chicago with stops in between. There will be bus service, as well as taxis and shuttle vans. Bike paths will lead to the center, which will also be located across the street from an airport.

"Amtrak's Wolverine line…it's already one of the more successful lines and they intend to make it the premier line west of the Appalachians," Hodges says. "In communities where they've made the investment they've seen a commercial and residential renaissance."

Under federal guidelines the center should be opened by October 2013, but that may be a difficult deadline to meet and an extension may be requested. In Dearborn, where a larger multi-modal transit station is being built, there are delays.

The project, which is part of the Detroit Regional Mass Transit Plan, had the support of Gov. Rick Snyder and Automation Alley.

Support from them and others "made me clearly understand the negative impact this would have had on our peers…if hadn't passed," Hodges says. "Most clearly this has regional impact."

Source: Michele Hodges, president, Troy Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Kim North Shine

The train has left the station - sort of

Regional mass transit champions, especially of train and light rail, received several pieces of good news in 2011 as Amtrak operators and bus service providers saw ridership hit record numbers. Funding added up, new stations opened and Woodward Avenue light rail moved as close as ever to leaving the station.

Metro Detroit suburbs liked what they saw and threw money and manpower behind studies and possible land acquisition into linking their main corridors, namely Woodward Avenue and possibly 8 Mile, to light rail or other regional mass transit system.

Of course, the Woodward Avenue Rail project has been put on hold in favor of a rapid bus transit plan... but the conversation deepens and most assuredly continues. 

Note: The record numbers and the funding have been a "trend" since at least 2008, but 2012 might show us if this thing that has brought so much economic stimulus to other towns can happen in metro Detroit. It's why we posed this in 2011: If Dallas can do it, why not Detroit?

As train and bus ridership gorw, $47 million is committed to new transit options
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/1020masstransit0229.aspx

Transform Woodward ponders light rail beyond Detroit
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0804woodlightrail0219.aspx

Woodward Avenue as linear city
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0609woodave0212.aspx

If Dallas Can Do It, Why Can't Detroit?
http://www.metromodemedia.com/features/dallasdetroitlightrail0218.aspx

Case for Detroit light rail grows with $25M federal grant, 23 percent growth in Amtrak ridership
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/lightrailplans0195.aspx

Nearly $200M federal grant accelerates high speed rail in Metro Detroit
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0512highspeedrail0209.aspx

Next stop: Dearborn. New new train station pulling in
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0721dearborntrain0217.aspx

New transit center in Pontiac welcomes bus, train commuters
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0811pontiactransit0220.aspx

By Kim North Shine

The whos, whats and hows of bus ridership in SE Mich

A recently completed survey of bus riders on six systems in Southeast Michigan will help transportation planners and system operators learn what's needed to better serve riders.

The last survey, a project of SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) was completed in 2002 and much has changed since then.

"With all of the economic impacts that have happened recently, it's changed travel patterns, especially with transit," says Tom Bruff, transportation manager for SEMCOG's Plan Policy Development Group.

"By performing this survey we get to better understand what these travel patterns are and use the information to design a system-wide transportation plan."

While the focus was on bus riders, the information gathered could factor into planning for other forms of mass transportation and transportation dollars, especially as plans for light rail, train and similar transportation in Detroit, metro Detroit and Ann Arbor are moving further along.

The survey, conducted in person, asked 18,500 people their views on topics such as destinations, purpose of trips, and transportation methods to starting and ending points, as well as personal attributes. Surveys were taken from riders on Detroit Department of Transportation, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, University of Michigan Transit Service, Detroit People Mover, Blue Water Area Transit and Lake Erie Transit.

"By performing this survey and getting more information on our fixed route system we're able to utilize it for other purposes, such as how it could be applied to  light rail…We need to have the proper information to apply for dollars out there," Bruff says. "We also have to do the survey for compliance with receiving federal funds and also monitoring and improving air quality."

Only preliminary results of the survey, which was taken in 2010 and 2011 and completed in the spring, are available at this point. They are available ln SEMCOG's website and will be updated as new findings are released.

Among the preliminary findings:

* More than 222,000 bus boardings occur on the six systems each day.
* About half of transit usage occurs on 10 percent of the system
* 54 percent of trips were work and university related
* More than a third of riders were between 18-25
* 90 percent of riders did not get any fare subsidy.
*20 percent of riders are unemployed
*46 percent of riders did not have a valid driver’s license and nearly 52% had no access to any vehicle.

The information will be further broken down and analyzed to determine how much has changed since 2002 and to compare the findings to other cities, Bruff says.

"First and foremost it gives us more recent and relevant information that we can use and the transit operators can use to plan for changes in the transit system," Bruff says. "We'll take this information and include it in our travel demand forecast model…We'll put in transportation projects that are being planned…and determine how are those projects improving the system….

Bruff himself is one of metro Detroit's bus riders. "I go from Macomb County to downtown Detroit every day," he says. "I go by choice. There are a lot of riders who need affordable, reliable transportation because it's their only means of transportation, and there are a number of riders who are choice riders."

The goal of the survey is to serve them all.

Source: Tom Bruff, transportation manager for SEMCOG's Plan Policy Development Group
Writer: Kim North Shine

As train and bus ridership grow, $47M is committed to new transit options

If the numbers paint an accurate picture, development of mass transportation in Michigan is picking up steam.

A series of announcements this week look promising for light rail and other transportation options for Southeast Michigan. Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $46.7 million in funding for 16 projects across the state, several in Detroit and surrounding suburbs.

Besides about $7 million for the city of Detroit to replace buses and make other improvements, metro Detroit will see $2 million in funding for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which will study transportation alternatives between 8 Mile and 15 Mile Roads.

Part of that research will focus on connecting to a light rail line to run along Woodward Avenue in Detroit, starting in downtown and ending at 8 Mile. That project got $25 million in federal funding last year and a promise of continued support from LaHood this week, who is also encouraging local officials in southeast Michigan to look at a regional approach to the light rail line.

The latest funding comes as a regional transportation task force headed by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has formed so that counties in Southeast Michigan will look at transportation advancements and opportunities as a united entity, rather than completing projects piecemeal.

And if there is question as to the interest from the public in mass transportation such as trains, record ridership numbers on Amtrak show there is. According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, which released the ridership numbers this week, there has been an increase on its three lines for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Ridership of the the Wolverine line, which runs between Pontiac and Chicago, increased by 4.9 percent from last year for a total of 503,290 riders. The increase might have been larger but for track work and freight slowdowns, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The Blue Water line from Port Huron to Chicago increased 18.6 percent, up to 187,065 passengers, and the Pere Marquette route between Grand Rapids and Chicago saw a a gain of 4.7 percent, with 106,662 passengers.

In addition, SMART, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, will receive nearly $5 million to replace unusable buses with hybrid biodiesel/electric models.

Tie in the decision in recent weeks by the state of Michigan to take on the Amtrak corridor between Dearborn and Kalamazoo and upgrade to 100-mph-plus high speed rail, and Michigan's mass transit improvements appear to be picking up steam.

There are two important lessons in all of this," says Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United, an advocacy group for mass transit.

"One is there is a huge interest and demand for better transit in our community. Whether you're talking city, suburb, business communities, individuals, politicians, there's a huge interest in having better public transportation," Owens says. "While it's great the feds are supportive, the other side of the story is we are dramatically under-investing in a system."

"We are so lucky to have incredible federal support. They've highlighted Michigan and Detroit as a special focus, but they can only do so much. We have to step up ourselves."

Owens shares her thoughts while attending a conference in Washington, D.C. this week on transit-oriented development. In other states, she says, tens of thousands of jobs have been created and billions of dollars invested in light rail, public transportation and in communities along the routes, with success achieved only after committing sales tax or other funding sources to their projects.

She also points out that for all the talk of high speed trains and light rail, buses, the backbone of a transportation system, can't be forgotten. The latest federal dollars do go toward improving DDOT and SMART buses, but again, she says, the commitment locally needs to be greater.

"It's absolutely fabulous we're seeing big investment in this area, but we have to not only maintain but improve the core services."

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation and Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United.
Writer: Kim North Shine


New transit center in Pontiac welcomes train, bus commuters

A new transit center opened this week in Pontiac, giving residents and commuters a new, faster, more accessible and appealing way to travel, and the community an economic lift.

The 4,500-square-foot intermodal station at 51000 Woodward opened Aug. 8 and is a starting and stopping point for passengers on Amtrak trains, SMART buses and Greyhound bus lines. Passengers and crew members of the transportation providers now have a modern-designed lobby, indoor and outdoor seating for bus stops and under canopies and other conveniences and comforts.

The Pontiac stop is already showing that train travel is catching on in metro Detroit. Stats for 2010 train ridership in or out of Pontiac increased 10 percent from 2009, for a total of 16,000 riders using the station for train travel. Figures for 2011 are on pace to exceed 2010.

Michigan's state transportation director, Kirk T. Steudle, in a statement calls the station "an excellent example of why it's important for the state of Michigan to invest in safe, modern, accessible transit buildings…"

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters says in a statement announcing the opening that, "transit systems offer safe, affordable, accessible transportation options that benefit commuters, stimulate new business development within the community, and create jobs through the building and maintenance of critical infrastructure. We're making a commitment to the economic development of Pontiac, both today and in the future…"

State Rep. Tim Melton adds, "Not only will this instantly create good jobs for our residents, but this facility will also open numerous employment and economic opportunities for the citizens of Pontiac to access workplaces that, at one time may simply have been too far out of reach. I know that Pontiac is headed in the right direction and this is yet another indication of that progress."

Source: John Richard, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine




Transform Woodward ponders light rail beyond Detroit

Southern Oakland County communities are contributing to a study that will look into what it will take to embark on transit-oriented development along Woodward Avenue.

The major thoroughfare ties the communities together and would be an obvious extension of a light rail line that is expected to be constructed along Woodward from downtown Detroit to 8 Mile Road.

The study was commissioned by the Transform Woodward group convened by the nonprofit Woodward Avenue Action Association, or WA3, and will identify land use and zoning and master plan changes needed to support transit oriented development along the South Oakland County portion of Woodward.
 
Royal Oak based LSL Planning Inc. will complete the study.

The Transform Woodward Task Force is made up of elected officials, employers and institutional partners from Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Royal Oak.

In announcing the plans to initiate a "transit-oriented development framework," WA3 says the creation of "improved public transit that includes a rapid transit service along the Woodward corridor, including governance, and funding through a regional transit authority, is a significant step toward a larger system that will support the development of jobs and business investments throughout the region, linking Oakland County."

Jana Ecker, chair of the task force and city of Birmingham planning director, says in a statement announcing the consultant's hiring, "We look forward to working with them as we complete the initial data gathering phases and begin to broaden our engagement with the communities along this historic All-American Road."

The task force and LSL Planning will outline existing conditions, transportation patterns, and needs and goals of each community as well as the Southern Oakland County region while building broad support and attempting to ensure that each city's unique character is preserved.

Source: Lori Ella Miller, spokesperson, Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine
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