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    Wednesday's unveiling of awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Innovation Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program left Michigan with little to show for applications submitted by municipal governments throughout the state. Only two cities-Detroit and Port Huron-were awarded funds for their transportation projects, receiving $23 million and $30 million, respectively.

    . Light Rail in Detroit

    Detroit's grant funds are to be spent on a $143 million light rail corridor down Woodward Avenue.  In total, the corridor would stretch 3.4 miles, stretching from East Jefferson Avenue to New Center (near East Grand Boulevard). A statement by USDOT indicated that the funds would be used to renovate the streetscape, repair roads, and purchase rail cars.

    Detroit's latest undertaking in transit has been the subject of both great enthusiasm and cynical skepticism of late. Backers say that the project will be a great step toward revitalizing a corridor often dubbed "Michigan's Main Street". While Woodward is already the site of dense development and several historical sites, certain stretches are also plagued with urban blight and strip development that promoters of the project deem undesirable.

    Detractors worry that Detroiters will not change their transportation habits, passing up the train ride to make their way down the corridor as they have for decades-by automobile. Project backers cite Minneapolis, however, as an example of a rail corridor that handily changed the habits of urban commuters. The city's own light rail network topped expected 2020 ridership within two years of its 2004 completion.

    Funding also remains a challenge, despite the recent gains from TIGER. The city has to square with a $300 million annual shortfall in its budget, and has a long way to go before it can fully produce the $143 million necessary for the completion of the project. Detroit will be applying for funds from the Federal Transit Administration, and also has significant private backing for the project from several business interests in the city, as well as the Troy's Kresge Foundation and the Detroit Downtown Development Authority.

    Bridge-Building in Port Huron

    Port Huron's $30 million grant is to be spent on replacement of the I-94 Black River Bridge. The bridge is the second busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing for commercial trucking, and the fourth for commuter traffic.  Replacing the bridge is the first step in the process of a modernization process intended not only to ehance capacity at the border crossing, which already facilitates the movement of $38 million in goods annually, but also to better connect Port Huron proper with Port Huron township.

    Much of the purpose of the project is to separate border traffic from local commuters, easing congestion for both classes of commuters. The project will also generate temporary construction jobs.  The project in its entirety will cost $78.6 million.

    The Losers

    Several other Michigan cities that applied for funding were left empty-handed when the distribution of awards was announced.  Some of the greatest disappointments occurred in East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Canton Township.

    East Lansing sought $7 million to renovate its Amtrak station and create a public parking structure for rail commuters. Proponents cited the city's location at a juncture between the Detroit and Chicago lines and record ridership for fiscal year 2009 as noteworthy reasons that the station deserved some attention from the federal government.

    Despite coming up short this time around, the city hopes that it might see success in a second round of TIGER-like funds, and will continue plans to renovate the Trowbridge corridor, of which the proposed Amtrak renovations were a key component. The redevelopment will now simply have to occur in phases, city officials say.

    Officials in Canton Township were rather disappointed in USDOT's rejection of an application for $20 million in funds to divert I-275 traffic away from Ford Road. The current situation in the township has left Ford with two sections that experience some of the highest crash rates in Michigan.

    Ann Arbor applied for $21 million toward its $22 million reconstruction of two bridge spans of East Stadium Boulevard. The bridges are in a state of worrisome disrepair, and while the city is seeking other federal funds for their replacement, it will likely not receive the near-full funding it sought from the TIGER program.

    A Southern Connection

    An odd victory for Michigan might be found in South Carolina, which received funds to extend 1-73 to Myrtle Beach, connecting the city directly to the U.S.-Canadian border. Myrtle Beach is the largest tourist destination without a major highway connection, and the extension is expected to provide significant economic benefits to the area.

     

    Sources

    AnnArbor.com

    CNN Money

    The Detroit Free Press

    Michigan Department of Transportation

    The Sun News

     

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