The site where Rosie the Riveters once assembled B-24 Liberators for Allies during World War II took a step closer to becoming a test site for the future of transportation.

A state board has approved a nearly $3 million initial grant for the American Center for Mobility, a proposed 335-acre driverless car proving grounds at the former Willow Run bomber plant in Ypsilanti.

Eric Shreffler of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. says that’s for initial legal work relating to the old GM plant’s environmental history and other consulting before acquiring the property. The Michigan Strategic Fund board approved the first grant Tuesday, before the center returns to request another $17 million in state aid for the project.

The group seeks $79 million total for the project, which would include federal funds. Shreffler says some private investors are interested.

State leaders on Friday announced the appointment of a CEO and board of directors for The American Center for Mobility. John Maddox, who is assistant director of a group that runs the state’s other driverless car test site, MCity, was named CEO.

Gov. Rick Snyder announced the Willow Run project in January during his annual State of the State address, saying it’s “the world’s best place” to test connected and autonomous cars.

The sprawling location is set to become an advanced automotive testing and product development center that focuses on testing, verification and certification of connected and automated vehicles.

Maddox said earlier this week the organization will spend the next year completing its due diligence on acquiring the property before any construction will take place. He said it’s too early to comment on a potential opening date. The property is owned by RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust, an organization that handles the properties abandoned by General Motors Co. during its bankruptcy.

The site will feature a number of test environments, including a downtown area with building facades; a highway-speed loop with merging, lane changing, ramps and other features; a rural area with unmarked gravel roads; a residential/suburban area to simulate a housing development with homes, garages and pedestrians; and a commercial environment to simulate a strip mall parking lot.

The Associated Press contributed.


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