Detroit is known to many as a struggling city. There are issues here that also come up accross the rustbelt, albeit Detroit is a much more extreme example. These problems have caused a large amount of disparaging depictions that have become widely circulated. This is best shown through the upsurge in popularity of Blight Porn, and other images with similar names, which has become a large topic for bloggers all the way up to larger, more mainstream media outlets such as the Huffington Post. Many hope the tides are shifting with the construction of the M1 Rail, as a lighthouse of successful policy. The rail is set to begin service in 2016. As Hall and Jonas outline, the development of transportation infrastructure creates a form of “capital accumulation via land-use intensification”.
In this article we will analyze the most recent outcropping of the coalition that has remained loyal to this city. This coalition is quickly becoming known for striking a balance between corporatism, policy hurdles and social responsibility. The product of this balance initially is the M1 Rail but in a larger sense this is indicative of a breakthrough in the long-term struggle between Detroit proper and its outlying metro neighborhoods.
The development of the M1 rail shows evidence of a functional regional transit planning authority that came into being in 2012. Versions of this type of regional organization have been attempted 24 times in the past 40 years, with little success. Negotiations had to overcome the most pronounced fiscal discrepancies, urban shrinkage and other social tensions that are endemic to poorly performing urban centers and some that are unique to Detroit. The coalition building that has occurred in this development has been pivotal to moving forward with the attempt to succeed. There is still much tension and doubt concerning the likelihood that this will be a success story.
Development of the M1 Rail
In the 2007-2009 period individuals represented by the Detroit Downtown Business Partnership (DDBP) raised $102 million from private organizations and $35 million from philanthropic sources to begin implementing the Detroit M1 Rail. As this effort was led by private enterprise it did not have the beginnings of a typical Public Private Partnership. This goes to show how unsuccessful regional government had been up until this point. The need for a rail system was pushed to the point where large business owners were going to build it with large religious-based organizations, both of whom saw the importance of transportation infrastructure in societal empowerment.
Unfortunately the individual and philanthropic efforts that began in 2007 hit a major hiccup with the fiscal meltdown in 2008 surrounding subprime mortgages. This created a focusing event. With less than the pledged funds being available, greater access to debt markets would be required.
This new lack of funds coupled with the fact that the privately funded plans to create the M1 rail were not homogenous as most large backers had different priorities in service. Essentially the first iterations of the rail were poorly planned due to low levels of collaboration from funders. This is best explained by the jockeying for different routes, stops, length of rails. As Hall and Jonas explain; intensification of land-use, in this case local rail, will have an effect of the real-estate values for the major collaborators. So the rail is, in fact, theorized to generate value in the downtown area. The jockeying, worsening access to funds, and an attempt by the city in 2010 to take over the project led to the most turbulent time in the planning of the M1 Rail.
After being awarded a $25 million dollar Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant the city began making its own plans. The grant’s purpose was to build governance for regional collaboration and upon completion that would give access to a further $600 million.
Upon this development Governor Snyder weighed in that the region would be better served by a Bus Rapid Transit Service (BRT). His reasoning was that with the same amount of funding it was possible to serve nearly six times larger area. The city began changing their plans to his idea, as the governor’s office would be necessary to clear regional governance negotiations between Detroit and surrounding municipalities. When the city began switching its plans to BRT rather than the M1 Rail, the Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) pulled its $25 million in TIGER funds.
In response, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was created in2012 as the 24th attempt at regional transportation planning organization in southeast Michigan. These regional planning organizations have been seen as the next step since the 1980’s for large cities to work with their surrounding area. As mentioned these organization’s role is to provide regional governance, dedicated to providing the essential service of transportation. The main importance is that the wider area of governance will give more access to debt. This access to debt is required to fund any major change, enhancement or reconstruction of transportation infrastructure.
After private meetings and planning the FTA deemed that the original privately led and funded plans for a 3.1 mile light rail was the more efficacious option for necessary revitalization and use of the TIGER IV grants. The caveat that they added was that after the initial period where service is to be provided privately, the RTA must be the operator of the M1 Rail. Under these conditions the M1 Rail was secured and construction was begun.
The M1 rail will be a light rail system that will run 3.1 miles down Woodward Avenue. This will carry riders through the Heart of revitalization efforts in Detroit. The line spans from Downtown into Midtown, which will carry people from the major business centers to the up and coming residential neighborhoods. It is seen by many as the beginning to stitch the city back together.
Many see this as a poor use of money. They cite that the ridership fees and advertising sales will not come close to covering the operational costs for this rail. They claim the Detroit Growth Coalitions depictions of revenue generation and probable ridership numbers as inflated. This deficit in operational costs causes concern that the State of Michigan will need to foot the bill for the remaining deficit.
The plan is still in place that this rail will be operated initially by private entities. In June it was announced that a vendor for the cars have been chosen, so they will be ready for the rail’s opening in 2016. The RFP for the operational service was due in April; however no news on selectin has come out as of July. The contract will be for 5 years with the option to renew for 2 to 5 years and is expected to cost $5 million per year.
As this project develops we should look, more towards economic activity and the change in property values. An effective measure of success will have to do with how this rail relates to those two metrics, which can be measured in many different ways. The importance, from a public perspective, on the rail to run would be urban city revenue streams. Is that with more valuable properties, the city can generate more revenues and better serve to protect and provide for residents in the area. This is an important example as to how transportation infrastructure can turn a poorly performing area around.
Urban Fiscal Austerity
Current Press coverage