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Year in Review: Regional Transit Changes Direction

Despite the rejection of a proposed Woodward Avenue light rail line and a planned regional transit center in Troy, proponents of a regional transportation system remain optimistic.

The story: Light rail proponents began 2011 with high hopes for a Woodward Avenue line that would run from downtown Detroit north to Eight Mile and, potentially, even farther north, connecting the city and suburbs. A proposed regional transit center in Troy would have provided connecting routes throughout the area.

By year-end, hopes for both the light-rail line and had been dashed.

In December, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder rejected the light rail plan in favor of a bus rapid transit system that would be less expensive and quicker to implement.

And, the Troy City Council voted to that was 12 years in the making and would have been completed using federal money.

The update: Supporters of a regional transportation system in Metro Detroit remain optimistic that a new, effective plan can be developed, despite the setbacks.

Berkley City Councilman Steve Baker – on the Woodward Avenue Action Association South Oakland Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Task Force – said a $2 million grant for a study of mass transit alternatives along Woodward north of Eight Mile remains in play.

The grant was received from the Federal Transit Authority by a partnership of six Woodward Avenue communities – Berkley, Huntington Woods, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Birmingham – and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

However, Baker conceded that if Detroit planners opt for the bus rapid transit system, it is less likely that light rail north of Eight Mile would be implemented.

"The emotional interest and excitement over light rail is difficult to replicate in a bus system," Baker said. "But, the benefits of bus rapid transit remain attractive and worth serious discussion."

For example, he said, the high-speed buses are on par with light rail in terms of speed and capacity.

Huntington Woods City Commission member Jeffrey Jenks added, in a December email to Berkley Patch, that a bus rapid transit system has the potential to be rolled out in less than two years.

However, Jenks cited the need for cooperation to ensure any regional transportation project succeeds.

"Maybe the Legislature and the governor could also put this on fast track!" he wrote, in reference to the creation of a regional transit authority. "It seems to be high on the governor's agenda and hopefully for once the Legislature can join in that process."

Snyder has been a proponent of regional transportation in Metro Detroit and openly expressed his disappointment after the Troy council voted to , which would have been completed with $8.4 million in federal money.

The money will be returned to the Federal Railway Administration and used for another transit project elsewhere, though U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) has advocated for the money to to be used for a project, possibly in Pontiac or Royal Oak.

"A broader regional transit network is essential to ensure more businesses have access to workers, families have access to entertainment and professionals have access to employment opportunities," Berkley's Baker said. "All of those things are essential to move the region forward."

He also pointed out that a bus rapid transit system would share many characteristics with a light rail line, which could allow for the development of light rail along Woodward in the future. The similarities include:

  • Each moves along a dedicated travel lane.
  • Each requires regulation of traffic signals.
  • Infrastructure that would be installed for bus rapid transit – such as designated lanes, stations, lockers, baby-changing stations, benches, etc. – also would be needed for light rail.

He urged residents to contact their state and federal representatives and to email him at swbaker@berkleymich.net to provide their feedback.

"Nothing can replace the thrill of the light rail system," Baker said. "But this could be a first step toward a broad regional transit system that includes diverse modes that include buses and light rail."

Patch editors Jen Anesi, Terry Parris Jr. and Laura Houser contributed to this report.

Clarification: Six communities were involved in the Federal Transit Authority grant.

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