Detroit streetcar project gets $25 million in federal funding

An historic photograph shows a bustling downtown Detroit, outfitted with a lengthy streetcar rail system (Photo: USDOT).
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Brooks Hays

Backers of Detroit's planned 3.3-mile streetcar received good news on Friday, as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the federal government would be backing the light rail project to the tune of $25 million.

The federal funds arrive in the form of a Department of Transportation TIGER grant — part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program that, in 2012, distributed over $500 million to 47 transportation projects in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

The federal grant will be combined with a pool of over $100 million amassed from private investors and philanthropists, including the Kresge Foundation, the Penske Corporation, Quicken Loans, and several other Detroit-based benefactors. The rest of the budget for the $137 million M-1 Rail project will come from state and local funding. 

“I applaud Michigan’s leaders for coming together to support a regional vision for public transportation that will improve access to jobs, education, medical care, and other destinations for residents in the Detroit metro area,” said Secretary LaHood at a public announcement this morning.

According to the Detroit News, the M-1 system will consist of 11 stops and six streetcars, operating from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The streetcar would travel roughly 12 mph and take approximately a quarter of an hour to complete a one-way trip.

Local business and political leaders are hopeful that the project will assist in revitalizing downtown Detroit, a city that has suffered a sharp decline following the decline of the manufacturing industry and a massive population exodus over the last half-century. But as GIMBY's Backyard Fence recently reported, online commenters remain divided on the project's chances of success, with many doubting the city's chances of ever escaping the economic doldrums.