Frustrated by emissions and traffic congestion, many cities have begun to re-evaluate their dependence on cars. One solution that is returning to American cities after a decades-long absence is light rail, also known as streetcars or trolleys. Encouraged by the success of new light rail systems in cities like Portland, Ore., cities also hope that these transit investments will spur new development and support economic activity.
Detroit has faced many difficulties while considering the installation of a light rail system that would increase access to Woodward Avenue, the gateway to the suffering downtown area. Opponents have hotly contested the project, arguing that a high-speed bus system could be just as effective at much less cost. While the debate still rages, local leaders announced that a light rail system is definitely still an option for the city. While it would be smaller system than originally planned, the main goal would still be to help bring more business downtown.
Last year, many jurisdictions applied for a federal grant that would help fund mass transit systems. Gwinnett County, Ga. approved an 18-month mass transit study to help support their bid. Their plans included a light rail line that would lessen congestion in the crowded I-85 corridor, but their bid for the federal grant was unsuccessful. Hillsborough County, Fla. put in similar work towards the grant but was also unsuccessful. While these counties may have not have been awarded this grant, the planning work they put in has helped their communities envision mass transit options for the future.
In the end, the $25 million grant was awarded to Washington State. The money has gone to help extend the southern end of Sound Transit’s new light rail. As part of this construction the City of SeaTac, Wash. is celebrating the opening of its new light rail station, which will help improve driving conditions on Interstate 5 near the Joint Base Lewis-McChord and will connect downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport. Bergen County, N.J. is also moving ahead with an extension of the NJ Transit in their area. Hearings began last month, and concerns over air pollution were among the reasons cited to support the expansion of the light rail system.
Light rail is not the right transportation solution for every area. Recently Montgomery County, Md. found that an updated and speedier bus system would be a less costly and more efficient alternative to developing a light rail system. Houston has also had issues while expanding its light rail system. Construction has been detrimental to local businesses, and additional funding has been not enough to cover the losses.
The Knowledge Network also a number of resources to help planning light rail and other transit systems, including user questions like these:
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