Detroit is in ruins, but they’re building a $140 million, three-mile streetcar, and you’re helping pay for it

Written by . Posted in Yep, This Happened


Published on August 26, 2013

CaptureNote the month in the first sentence of the second paragraph below. Yes, it refers to 2013:

DETROIT, MI – At an open house for subcontractors and others needed to help build a 3.3-mile streetcar down Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Lawrence Stevenson said he considered being involved in the project as something that would be “historic.”

…The federal government signed off on the $140 million M1 Rail project in April. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in January announced $25 million in federal funding for the transit project, which will have 11 stops and cost $1.50 per ride. Fifteen private donors led by Penske Chairman Roger Penske, Quicken Chairman Dan Gilbert and M-1 CEO Matt Cullen contributed $100 million to the project.

So $140 million is the cost of 3.3 miles of light rail in the city of Detroit, which by April was already well on its way to bankruptcy. In fairness, the project will mostly be privately funded. But why are federal taxpayers being put on the hook for even a single dime?

Detroit is emptying out. Its entire population is less than 700,000. I’m not a transportation expert, but I know a little bit of math. At $1.50 per ride, you’ll need about 100 million rides on this thing before it’s paid for itself. It would take a century if every person in the city rides it (on average) each year, and that assumes no maintenance costs.

Update: In case you think this piece amounts to simple Detroit-bashing, I’d like to make something clear. I’d rather that these grant programs didn’t exist at all, but if we’re going to have them, why not do things that people actually need?

In Detroit, they have a pretty serious crisis of urban abandonment — about 60,000 abandoned buildings, 38,000 of which are unsafe. The estimated cost to tear each one down is about $8,000, so $25 million would take care of about 3,100 of those. Or the money could go to shore up pensions for the city workers about to get screwed in bankruptcy.

But no, the same federal Department of Transportation that tried to make the sequester as painful as possible by furloughing air traffic controllers at the nation’s busiest airports is determined to spend your money on expensive toys and on the same kind of “revitalization” schemes that Detroit’s city government went bankrupt paying for.

Because hey, we have so much extra money just sitting there doing nothing.