MI: Detroit City Council Approves M-1 Rail Construction, Operation Agreements

June 25--The Detroit City Council today unanimously approved a pair of agreements to build and operate the M-1 Rail project along Woodward Avenue.

M-1 officials say it's the last approval needed from the city prior to groundbreaking for the streetcar system this summer.

"This document in its entirety gives us the right to operate, the right to build, the right to maintain the streetcar in the right of way," M-1 Rail chief operating officer Paul Childs said after the vote. "We're just tickled pink that after seven years we got here."

Passenger service is scheduled to start in late 2016, although completion was questioned last week when a letter surfaced from Michigan's congressional leaders requesting a $12.2-million federal grant for the project, to plug a funding gap the lawmakers said could delay it indefinitely.

The lawmakers and project planners are waiting to see whether the federal grant comes in from the U.S. Department of Transportation. If not, M-1 Rail planners say they could move some money around, move ahead with construction and raise the rest of the money later. The line would run on Woodward from Jefferson Avenue north to New Center at Grand Boulevard.

The agreements approved today are for 30 years, with two 30-year renewal options.

The agreements do not identify a way to pay for the system once it is up and running, according to a city council report prepared before the vote.

Representatives from the rail project and the city's department of public works, the road authority for the city's streets, were at today'scouncil meeting. Council members had no questions about the agreements.

Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. said many questions were asked during a committee meeting on Monday. Cushingberry said he is concerned about connectivity between the rail, the city's bus system and the People Mover. Cushingberry said project officials assured him a connectivity plan is being put together.

Cushingberry said the project must move forward to take advantage of available federal money.

"The sad part is, some people are under the mistaken assumption that we could use these funds for other purposes," he said. "If we don't go after the (federal) grants and use the funds now for M-1 we won't be able to use them for anything else."

M-1 president and CEO Matthew Cullen said the project will play a major role in reshaping Detroit. Groundbreaking and construction details will be announced in the coming weeks, he said.

"With Detroit City Council's unanimous approval of construction and operating agreements today, the M-1 Rail project is officially set in motion," Cullen said in a statement. "This action will allow us to start construction on this transformative 3.3-mile modern streetcar program in July."

Contact Joe Guillen: 313-222-6678 or jguillen@freepress.com. Reporter John Gallagher contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 - Detroit Free Press