June 27, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Businesses brace for construction to begin next month on M-1 Rail project

M-1 Rail officials say they estimate it will cost around $5.2 million annually to operate the line, which will include 20 stations at 12 locations. (M-1 Rail)

Detroit — Officials announced Friday construction will begin July 28 on the city’s M-1 Rail streetcar line.

The work will cause a 120-day closure of Woodward from Adams to Campus Martius Park, according to officials, who discussed plans with businesses in the Woodward corridor during the first of a series of meeting.

“Over the next 30 days, our team will be pounding the pavement to make everyone who lives, works and visits the Woodward corridor are aware of what they should expect from track construction and how to navigate around it once we begin on July 28th,” said Paul Childs, chief operating officer of M-1 Rail.

Official said the Michigan Department of Transportation and DTE Energy could start work around mid-July before M-1 Rail begins its work July 28.

Some businesses downtown are unsure what the closure will mean for their establishments, but they are hopeful at this point.

“We’re cautiously optimistic it won’t impact us negatively,” said Mitch Jaworski, co-owner of Bleu Detroit night club on Woodward. “Since we have limited hours ... that’s probably in our favor. Hopefully we’re going to miss most of it and it will be to our advantage.”

Jaworski added he hopes the M-1 Rail line, once complete, will solve some of the parking woes downtown.

“That’s what our ultimate goal is and most businesses downtown.”

Earlier this week, the City Council approved permits to pave the way for construction on the $137 million, 3.3-mile line up Woodward Avenue from downtown to Midtown (between Larned and West Grand Boulevard).

Proponents say they expect retail and housing to flourish along the line once it’s running, pointing to economic benefits other cities have seen with similar projects. M-1 Rail officials say they estimate it will cost around $5.2 million annually to operate the line, which will include 20 stations at 12 locations.

Megan Owens, executive director of the Detroit-based advocacy group Transportation Riders United, said many in the area were skeptical and the construction makes it tangible for people.

“Now we will be seeing those shovels in the ground, which will make it much more real for people. That means it’s finally coming,” Owens said.

“We don’t want to over sell it. This will be one positive step. You start giving people a glimpse of what’s positive. It’s an important step for a new future where transit is an important part of the region.”

Meanwhile, M-1 officials say they are down to two streetcar vendors and should be receiving proposals for “the best and final” offers in the next few weeks.

M-1 Rail officials led by business titans Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert, who have helped organize starting in 2007 the public-private partnership to build the line, have always been optimistic the project will come to fruition.

Paul Hillegonds, the chairman of the Regional Transit Authority board that was created in part to help move M-1 Rail forward, added he doesn’t think that even with a projected $12 million shortfall in funding the streetcar line will fail.

On May 1, some of Michigan’s Congress members wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx with concerns that the project could be in jeopardy without more federal funding. Despite the shortfall, however, M-1’s board of directors voted in June to go ahead with the project, with board members saying the money can be raised through other sources.

Matthew Cullen, the project’s president and CEO, said organizers estimate the streetcars to be up and running in late 2016.

The project had been set to break ground in late 2013 and open in late 2015 but delays have stalled the process.

dnichols@detroitnews.com
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