For all the taxpayer money Washington wastes, finding funds for M-1 Rail shouldn't be a problem. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
Compared to most infrastructure projects the federal government is helping to fund, Detroitís M-1 rail amounts to pocket change. Of the $137 million cost of the commuter rail, the U.S. Transportation Department is in for just $25 million.
Thatís a pittance for a department that is more accustomed to billion dollar requests for projects not nearly as transformative as the M-1 rail promises to be for Detroit.
Now, the project is asking for another $12 million to address cost overruns that have surfaced since the planning process began.
Construction will begin within the next 30 days, pending city council approval, and the three-mile line on Woodward from downtown to New Center may have to be tweaked if new money isnít found.
A letter from Michiganís congressional delegation to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned of indefinite delays if the shortfall isnít covered, although M-1 officials say the warning is overstated and construction will begin on time.
Itís a tough year to be asking the federal government for transportation money.
The National Highway Trust Fund, which finances transit projects, is nearly broke, thanks to declining gasoline tax collections and decades of cost overruns on infrastructure projects.
Still, if any initiative is worthy of funding, itís the M-1 rail.
This is an unprecedented undertaking. Nowhere else in America is such a major transportation project being funded primarily by the private sector.
Backers of the line have raised $125 million from foundations, corporations and individuals whose overriding interest is reviving downtown Detroit.
The investors will reap no return on their donation except to see the city revitalized.
M-1 rail promises to accelerate the revitalization of the central city, moving riders between the two main centers of development.
The hope is the line will help knit together development between downtown and New Center, and possibly go farther north in the future.
Along with funding construction, private donations will also fully finance operations for 10 years.
At the end of that period, the whole system will be handed to the city. For free.
The feds have never seen a better deal than this one.
Congress has set aside $4 billion since 2009 to fund special transit projects that have significant impact on a region.
The M-1 rail certainly meets that criteria.
The rail line should be finished in about two years.
Thatís perfectly timed to support the array of new development thatís already underway or planned in the Woodward corridor, including the Red Wingsí new hockey complex.
Designed to help support clusters of commercial activity along the route, the line will make Detroit more attractive to residents, particularly younger people looking for an urban lifestyle.
Itís a great investment, and one that requires very little government support.
Again, the small amount of money being requested could probably be found in the cushions of the Transportation Departmentís couches.
Officials should shake them and find the funds for a project that will remake Detroit.