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$30 million for Detroit

Unclear if or how Blacks will benefit from transportation work

By C. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — A Detroit transit plan will be funded, announced U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Jan. 18 in Detroit. He congratulated state lawmakers and city stakeholders for working to create a regional transit authority and committing $100 million in local dollars.

Detroit will receive a $25 million TIGER grant that will go to the M-1 Rail Project, which will connect the three-mile stretch between downtown Detroit and New Center by streetcar. The regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan will connect Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw and Macomb counties and will receive $6.5 million Federal Transportation Administration dollars.

“By securing over $30 million federal dollars for the M-1 project and a bus rapid transit system, we are making an investment to build a brighter future for our region,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Peters. “Regional transit means new economic development opportunities in our communities, new jobs for our workers and a new hope for a stronger Greater Detroit region.”

Officials will break ground this year and hope to be operational by 2015.

Of the $100 million raised locally, Kresge committed $35 million while other downtown business and nonprofit entities donated the other funds.

The grant was made possible by the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) created by legislation passed during the lame duck session in the last state legislature.

Gov. Rick Snyder has named Paul Hillegonds head of the RTA. The authority will eventually oversee the M-1 Rail line, BRT and coordinate the bus routes of SMART and DDOT. Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties will each get two RTA seats.

Last week, the Michigan Citizen reported on systematic race and sex discrimination at MDOT, the agency that will administer the grant funds.

Dr. Bellandra Foster of BBF Engineering Services was routinely denied contracts at MDOT because of race and sex, according to a federal report, ending her business and forcing her to leave the state. An MDOT spokesperson, who was not able to comment on BBF Engineering because of an ongoing lawsuit, was not aware of systems or process changes at MDOT that could protect against discrimination.

Without changes at MDOT, it is unlikely Black contractors will benefit from the influx in transportation dollars. Gov. Snyder’s office expects jobs for 2,000 workers to begin this summer, according to a press statement.

When asked about racism and discriminatory practices at MDOT, LaHood was unable to comment at the Jan. 18 press conference. Federal Transit Administrator for Communications and Congressional Affairs Brian Farber would later send a statement.

“Now that the M-1 Rail Project has been given the green light to move forward, the local stakeholders are in the process of developing an agreement at the state and municipal levels of government outlining the roles and responsibilities of each agency, including compliance with the USDOT’s and the Federal Transit Administration’s rules and regulations,” Farber wrote in an e-mail. “These rules and regulations include compliance with USDOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program to encourage participation by small and disadvantaged business owners.”

Residents have criticized the M-1 Rail Plan saying the Detroit Transit Plan is not seamless or contiguous. They are asking the streetcar portion of the plan be scrapped. Critics say it doesn’t make sense to make BRT riders get off the bus to get on a 11-stop streetcar that will eventually take them to downtown Detroit. (See Letters to the Editor pg. 6)

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