M1 Rail Progress Report: draft Environmental Impact Statement released, presentation set for Feb. 12

In August, US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood came to Detroit to announce that funding was secured for Woodward Light Rail stretching from the Detroit River to Eight Mile -- and the forward progress continues with the completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). "It really is the most amazing thing, how quickly this has moved, five months (to get) this entire pretty massive analysis completed," says Megan Owens, executive director of transit advocacy organization Transportation Riders United. "For a project of this magnitude, it's quite fast."

The document is available for review online at WoodwardLightRail.com, and a technical presentation is scheduled for February 12 at 11:30 a.m. and again at 4:30 p.m. at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave.

The release of a DEIS is the first of several hurdles the project must leap before construction can begin, with the final EIS, expected to be ready in May, next on the list. The EIS process is required for the release of Federal funds to the project. If all goes well, construction is slated to begin later this year on Phase 1, which would run 3.4 miles from Downtown Detroit to West Grand Boulevard.

EIS is somewhat of a misnomer, as the process looks at potential impacts of all kinds, not just to the environment. "It looks at (whether) noise or vibrations from the train will have any impact on historic buildings, it looks at archeological sites, minority and low-income and transit-dependent communities," explains Owens. So far, the results are promising. "The impacts are largely positive or mostly neutral."

One of the major debates regarding the rail line is its alignment, both down Woodward and within downtown. Owens speculates that decision will be made over the next few months. "Moving into what's called the engineering and design phase, (they're) really getting into the nitty gritty: exactly where each station will be, how traffic flow may shift," she says. "That's what will be worked on over the spring and summer, the detailed engineering work."

TRU is involved with hosting six community engagement meetings this month that are of a less technical nature than the one to be held on Feb. 12. "What is light rail, how does it work, what does it look like, where will it go?" are the kinds of questions to be addressed, says Owens. The forums are set for locations that roughly correspond to planned transit stations.

Palmer Woods: Feb. 16, 7-9 p.m. at Detroit Unity Temple, 17505 Second Ave.
Boston Edison: Feb. 21, Details TBA
Highland Park: Feb. 22, at the Highland Park Recreation Center
Midtown: Feb. 23, 6- 8 p.m. at the Detroit Main Public Library
Grand Boulevard: Feb. 24, Details TBA
Downtown: Feb. 28, Details TBA

On March 2, an event will be held downtown to summarize and conclude the public forums. For more information, contact Owens at MOwens@DetroitTransit.org.

Public comments on the DEIS are accepted through March 14 via email to woodwardlightrail@detroitmi.gov or by post to: Ms. Tricia M. Harr, AICP; U.S. Department of Transportation; Federal Transit Administration Headquarters; 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE; East Building – E43-105; Washington, D.C., 20590.

Source: Megan Owens, TRU
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

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