Just as they were about to break out the noisemakers and champagne, public transit advocates had their celebration cut short by none other than Mayor Dennis Archer last week.
Transportation Riders United yelped “yahoo” earlier this month when the grassroots mass transit group received word that plans to expand I-375 were put on hold by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ executive council. SEMCOG is working on a regional transportation plan for the area and voted not to include the approximately $78 million expansion, which would hold up federal funds and delay it about a year.
Detroit City Council members Maryann Mahaffey and Clyde Cleveland — both of whom are SEMCOG voting delegates — helped spur the decision.
TRU has been critical of the I-375 project, which members say is designed to only benefit General Motors’ RenCen headquarters — and any casino that might end up on the waterfront.
But what really ticks off TRU is that the project could prevent future use of the old commuter train rail that ran from Detroit to Pontiac. Expanding I-375 near the river will destroy any possibility of using the tail end of the track, says TRU President Karen Kendrick-Hands.
The issue is of particular import in light of last week’s announcement by TRU that Seattle has some spare light rail cars and GM locomotives that it is willing to lease at least until it is able to use them. If southeast Michigan had the political will, a demonstration rail project between Pontiac and the RenCen area could be up and running by fall, says Kendrick-Hands.
But instead of throwing his weight behind that concept, Archer got on the horn with SEMCOG Executive Director Paul Tait, then followed up with a letter listing a slew of reasons why the I-375 extension must happen — now, not later. The mayor wrote Tait that GM’s other downtown development will benefit, that the project is not tied to any casino, and the City Council had previously voted to approve the project (with Mahaffey as the lone dissenter).
News Hits spoke to Tait the day after he received Archer’s letter. Let’s just say, when the mayor talks, Tait listens.
“We are going to have a meeting (June 15) to reconsider,” said Tait.
Mahaffey says that she isn’t surprised by Archer’s actions.
“It’s an imperial administration,” she says. “I don’t know how the mayor’s going to get it other than pressuring Paul to go along. We’ll see.”Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]