The feds are all aboard Detroit's M-1 Rail project.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave final environmental clearance Monday for the 3.3-mile Woodward Avenue Streetcar Project, allowing the effort to move one step closer to completion. On the same day, M-1 Rail President and CEO Matt Cullen announced the appointment of a chief financial officer and the addition of eight new members to the project's board.
In January, the FTA announced that M-1 Rail would receive a $25 million federal TIGER grant. Plans call for it to be a circulating streetcar system located within the right-of-way on Woodward Ave that will operate in mixed traffic. Once completed, it will stretch north from Larned St. in downtown Detroit to the city's New Center district north of Grand Blvd.
“On behalf of the entire M-1 Rail team and our community partners I would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the FTA for confirming the streetcar project complies with National Environmental Policy Act and Federal transit laws,” said Cullen in a release. “I would also like to thank the Michigan Department of Transportation, the City of Detroit, all the people and organizations who support this project, along with the passionate members of the Detroit community who provided valuable input. Your continued commitment and contribution is a key first step in an improved transportation system for all of Detroit and our region.”
The FTA approval is the last step needed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Now the project can move on to its next phases: design, right of way acquisition and actual construction. Work is expected to begin south of Adams St. this summer. M-1 Rail expects the system to be completed and operational in late 2015.
The project's new Chief Financial Officer is Jeni Norman, a Senior Manager with the Audit and Assurance Department of The Rehmann Group, a financial services firm.
He'll lead M-1 Rail's finance committee, implement financial strategies, manage capital and operating budgets and make sure the effort meets federal, state and local funding requirements. In a release, Norman said the public-private financial structure of the project was very complex compared to similar transit systems around the country.
“It’s unprecedented that New Market Tax Credits are being leveraged for a rail system; and that a non-profit organization is spearheading the construction of a $140 million infrastructure project," he said. "I am eager to work with the rest of the M-1 team to deliver this great project for Detroit and the region.”
The project's nterim CFO, Paul Trulik, will continue working with M-1 as assistant treasurer for the board.
The new members of the board include: Dave Blaszkiewicz, President and CEO, Downtown Detroit Partnership; Darrell Burks, Retired Senior Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Jared Fleisher, Attorney, Patton Boggs; Sarah McClelland, President, Michigan Market, J.P. Morgan Chase; Mike McLauchlan, Vice President, Government Relations, Illitch Holdings, Inc.; Susan Mosey, President, Midtown Detroit, Inc.; Faye Nelson, President and CEO, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy; and Robert Riney, President and Chief Operating Officer, Henry Ford Health System.
The project has seen many twists and turns during development. Although the system had, at one time, been envisioned to stretch all the way to Detroit's 8-mile border, those plans were scuttled in 2011. The state and city temporarily withdrew from the streetcar effort to support the development of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. However, the determination of private backers and the establishment of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) by state and regional authorities eventually allowed the project to get back on track -- though on a much-reduced scale. The development of a rapid bus system is also moving ahead. The Federal Transit Administration awarded $6.5 million in BRT funding alongside the streetcar's TIGER grant in January.