Ray LaHood's M1 grant rejection: Can metro Detroit get anything done?
Everyone wants to put a happy spin on U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s announcement that M1 Rail will not receive a $25 million federal TIGER grant, but this news is an indictment of our region’s ability to accomplish even the most basic project.
If we get out transit act together, Washington says they'll still step up with some cash. That’s nice. Take a look at the laundry list of obvious tasks to be accomplished to reach that “act is together” threshold.
First, M1 needs a “credible plan” for funding operational costs over the short and long-term.
Second, they need to establish a capital reserve fund as a contingency against cost overruns or revenue shortfalls.
Third, M1 must execute an agreement with state and local officials that spells out everyone’s role in the construction and operation of the Woodward street car.
Fourth, the Feds want some verification that SEMCOG is legally able to perform the functions laid out for the organization in M1’s business plan.
Fifth, there needs to be an actual regional transit authority to operate the thing.
So, basically once we figure how we're going to fund it and who will operate it, light rail in Detroit is golden! Don't we have this same conversation, with the same open questions, every few months?
Virtually every major city in these United States has accomplished these basic and obvious transit tasks. We know this because virtually every major city has a transit system more advanced than Detroit. And they did it with far less consternation and federal handholding than Detroit seems to require.
It makes one wonder what all the crisply pressed suits bloviating about “the importance of mass transit to the future of our city and region” have been doing with their time? Browsing streetcar and bus catalogues? Ooooh, this one comes in blue! Pretty!
They must have been doing something because LaHood’s letter suggests M1 has a business plan. It even involves SEMCOG in some way, assuming SEMCOG can legally participate in the manner anticipated.
However, this business plan apparently still lacks sufficient answers to basic questions about funding and operations. You know, the things a business plan is supposed to explain. So, we’re back to the same question: What kind of substantive progress is being made to improve transit in metro Detroit?
The answer, based on Ray LaHood’s assessment, is not a whole hell of a lot.