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Detroit Plans Urban Renewal Around a New Streetcar System

Community leaders in Detroit are counting on a a new streetcar rail system to drive its economic revival.  The proposed rail line has cleared an environmental review and M-1 Rail, a nonprofit organization overseeing the $140 streetcar project, strives to launch the service in late 2015.  Construction bids have been made, and the contract winner will be announced soon.

The circulating streetcar will be 3.3 miles long and will include stops at an Amtrak Station and at a future bus rapid transit system being planned by the city.  The system has been in the planning stages since 2007 when community leaders labeled Detroit “Transit-challenged,” and demanded that transit be included in city planning as a means to stimulate Detroit’s economy, attract new residents, and retain younger generations of workers.

A unique aspect of the project is the way businesses and local leaders banded together to fund it.  Though planners wanted the project to be eligible for federal funding, local businesses and organizations banded together to fund the project’s launch and  to date 2/3 of the streetcar line’s costs will be covered by private funds, the remainder coming from federal, state, and local grants.  Companies that committed to fund the project include Wayne State, University, Quicken Loans, the Ilitch companies, Penske Corp, Compuware Corp, Chevrolet, Chrysler Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, Wayne County government, the Ford Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Webber Foundation, and the Downtown Development Authority.

In January of 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation, committed $25 million to the rails line and another $6.5 million for engineering and studies for a more regional transportation system.  During a visit to Detroit, Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood stated “‘This can become a model for the rest of the country, where a community has come together in one of the hardest economic times in U.S. history and put together a program that will benefit its people.'”  $500 million to $800 billion in economic development is anticipated along the rail corridor.

As the St. Louis region considers its own Streetcar plan, perhaps there are insights to be learned from Detroit’s example.

(The source for this post was “Detroit Turns to a Streetcar System as a catalyst for urban renewal” found on the world wide web on June 17, 2013 at–36474).


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