Get used to hearing those words (or the acronym TOD) and the millions of dollars in investment that comes with them when it comes to development in Metro Detroit in the near future.
The first rail-based example of transit oriented development for the planned U.S. 23 commuter rail line is being proposed in Whitmore Lake. The Whitmore Station project looks to redevelop 24 acres of an old industrial plant into a combination of commercial and residential space centered on the proposed station.
The commuter rail line would connect Ann Arbor to its northern neighbors Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell using existing train tracks that mirror U.S. 23.
Originally proposed to help alleviate congestion during construction along U.S. 23 last year, local leaders are now pushing for it to relieve chronic backups along the highway where rush hour traffic often goes beyond its capacity. Although starting service has been pushed back a few times, those behind the effort are still confident it will become a reality.
"I am confident that this is a very real project," says Earl LaFave, the developer behind Whitmore Station. "I am also convinced that it will happen in the near future. I am not talking years. It could happen within the next year."
If that turns out to be the case, he says he will move full speed ahead with the Whitmore Station project. The acreage at the corner of 8 Mile Road and U.S. 23 served as a Johnson Controls plant for years before going idle recently. Today it's minimally used for storage.
Although LaFave's development team is still in the preliminary stages of designing Whitmore Station, he envisions about five acres being put aside for the station while the rest could be developed into a mix of residential and commercial space or just commercial.
LaFave, a Livingston County developer behind the Hidden Lake development, says the project is not dependent on the commuter rail but the line would be a big boost for it. He adds that such development is common throughout the rest of the country and its time is definitely right for southeast Michigan.
"This is the real deal," LaFave says. "This has moved so far so fast in the short span of one year it's unbelievable."
Organizers behind the initiative, commonly known as WALLY for the Washtenaw and Livingston Line, are going after federal grant money and are hopeful they will get a good chunk of it after the train is up and running. The project has enjoyed near unanimous support from federal, state and local officials.
The Michigan Department of Transportation pledged $1.4 million on top of the $375,000 it has already committed to the line. Other local governments are pledging money ranging from the $150,000 from Washtenaw County to $10,000 from Northfield Township. Organizers are putting together an authority to run the line and assembling the final funds to make it happen.
A three-car passenger train would make six trips during the morning rush hour and another six trips in the afternoon/evening rush hour. Each stainless steel bi-level car could carry between 500 to 600 people per trip. A train would take about 20 minutes one way, saving commuters about 45 minutes in transport time, officials say.
It is estimated the cost to passengers could be kept in line with what they pay for gas. The initiative has an enthusiastic partner in Great Lakes Central Railroad, also known as the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway, which is willing to set up the service and provide the trains. Great Lakes Central is also interested extending the line as far north as Traverse City and as far south as Milan in the long term if the initial project proves successful.
Source: Earl LaFave, developer of Whitmore Station
Writer: Jon Zemke