Biden: Iconic Detroit ‘standing up again’
Detroit — Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday touted Detroit’s “miraculous” recovery as he joined city officials in touting critical improvements to the city’s transportation system.
“Detroit isn’t just an important city, it’s an iconic city,” Biden told a crowd gathered inside the Detroit Department of Transportation headquarters on Warren.
“Detroit is resilient. It’s tough and defined by a work ethic that is unmatched by any place in the world. Detroit is off its back, off its knees, standing up again.”
Biden’s appearance in the city comes as speculation intensifies that he may run for president and not long after his wife, Jill Biden, accompanied President Barack Obama to Michigan for a trip to Warren to highlight the value of community colleges.
Biden joined Mayor Mike Duggan, the city’s transportation director and others to showcase the final five new buses of an additional 80 added to the DDOT fleet this year, including 10 60-foot articulated buses to increase passenger capacity along major city routes.
As of Thursday, officials said 192 buses — 100 percent of the department’s scheduled fleet — will be on the road.
Duggan on Thursday reiterated a pivotal conversation he previously had with Biden stressing the city’s great need for new buses and says he regards Biden as Detroit’s “very best friend.”
“One third of the households in this city do not have a car,” Duggan said. “The single most important thing that Detroit needs is buses.”
The department has added more than 100 new drivers and 35 mechanics since last year. In January 2014, as few as 58 percent of scheduled buses made it onto the road, forcing riders to wait hours for service.
With 545,718 riders in September, DDOT hit its highest ridership figure to-date.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do,” DDOT Director Dan Dirks said.
Biden has made 16 trips to Michigan since taking office. His most recent was in May, when he gave the keynote address at the Detroit branch NAACP’s 60th annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.
Biden has become immersed in Detroit issues, including transportation needs and clearing blighted and abandoned homes and buildings, as well as the needs of its police department.
On Thursday, the vice president noted Detroit’s struggles with its water infrastructure, lighting and blight, as well as the downfall — and rebound — of the automotive industry.
“We would never abandon the people of Detroit,” he said. “It’s like abandoning the heart of America.”
Last September, the U.S. Transportation Department awarded a $12.2 million federal grant to help finish the M-1 streetcar project after officials warned the project might face lengthy delays without the grant.
That same month last year, the administration awarded Detroit $25.9 million to buy 50 hybrid and clean diesel buses that will ease overcrowding, reduce wait times and provide more reliable service where 35 percent of the people live below the poverty line.
Biden on Thursday also announced a high-tech automotive research and development project designed to tap the talent in the state’s universities and private sector and help the state continue its automotive leadership.
The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation will share a facility with the Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow program in the city’s Corktown neighborhood.
The institute will focus on developing fiber-enforced polymer composites for automotive materials that are lighter and stronger than steel — helping vehicles become lighter and more fuel-efficient. The program, supported by the U.S. Energy Department, was announced by Obama in January.
“This project shows how the government can collaborate with the private sector and Michigan’s world-class universities on innovative approaches that will be the future of the auto industry,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a Thursday statement.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is committing $15 million to the project over the next five years.
Megan Owens, executive director of the Detroit transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United, said Thursday that the bus fleet advancements are good news for Detroit riders. Now, the focus turns to the city’s ability to maintain the new fleet and schedule.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Owens said. “We’re excited, but still watching.”