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Detroit new light rail system opens, product of unique Public-Private Partnership

Detroit’s new Q Line light rail system opened to the public on Friday, May 12, 2017, after 10 long years of planning. That day marks the first time in 61 years that a streetcar ran down a major Detroit thoroughfare with regular passengers, and getting to this point was no easy task.

Detroit has suffered from financial issues in the past ten years, including declaring bankruptcy, which made finding funding for the project a difficult task. With the city in financial turmoil, private sponsors stepped up to get the project going. The largest private donation came from The Kresge Foundation, which donated $50 million to the project. Other large donors included Quicken Loans, which is based out of Downtown Detroit, Ford, Chevrolet, and Wayne State University to name a few.

This public-private partnership is quite unique and M-1 Rail reports that it is the first major transit project being led and funded by private businesses, philanthropic organizations, in partnership with local government, the state of Michigan, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Private businesses made donations to sponsor stations along the route, while the state of Michigan covered the costs of rebuilding Woodward Avenue, including laying new utility lines and fiber-optic lines for high-speed internet. A $25 million TIGER grant awarded to the city by the U.S. Department of Transportation, helped propel the project forward and enabled construction to begin. The group also secured New Market Tax Credits from private businesses to help finance the project.

Throughout the 10 years that it took to plan, finance, and build the Q Line, M-1 Rail – the group the oversees the Q Line – wanted to be clear about why they felt light rail was important to bring to Detroit. According to Rip Rapson, President and CEO of The Kresge Foundation, the group felt that light rail would:

  • Create new connections among the scores of commercial, cultural, medical, and educational institutions dispersed along the avenue;
  • Help revitalize the local economy and resuscitate the tax base by encouraging dense patterns of land use – housing, retail and other amenities – within walking distance of the stations; and
  • Serve as a down payment on a larger regional transit system

Even with the line having only been open for a week, it has already shown signs of success. To date, there has been over $7 billion of development along the 6.6-mile route including retail and restaurants, affordable housing, a sports arena, and over 200 different projects that are either complete, under construction, or in the pipeline.

For more information on the new Q Line, visit their website at:

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