Here is (mostly) everything you need to know about M-1 Rail and its construction in Detroit

July 16, 2014
M1 Rail rendering in downtown Detroit (Courtesy M1 Rail)

M1 Rail rendering in downtown Detroit (Courtesy M1 Rail)

In the coming weeks, construction of the long-awaited M-1 Rail streetcar in Detroit will commence. We know what you’re thinking: What does that mean? Where will I park? Will I still be able to make it to the Motley Crue show at Joe Louis Arena?

(Frankly, why’d you even buy a ticket for Motley Crue?)

So we’ll try to answer some of your questions. Most of them, anyway. If you have more, drop a line below.

What the hell are you talking about? M-1 what?

Great question! In case you’ve missed the hoopla, the M-1 Rail Streetcar project will operate along a 3.3-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue between downtown, Midtown and New Center. The project has been in consideration since 2007, and, project backers eagerly say, could serve as a catalyst for a more expansive, regional transit system. When it’s operational in late 2016 — officials said today they’re utterly confident that target date is doable — it’ll operate seven days a week, serving 12 stops along Woodward. Also, the Michigan Department of Transportation is going to completely overhaul Woodward in concert with the streetcar construction. Imagine that, a non-mountainous intersection of Woodward and Mack.

(M-1 Rail)

(M-1 Rail)

(In case you can’t read the above map, the stops include: Congress Avenue, Campus Martius, Grand Circus Park, Foxtown, Sibley Avenue, Martin Luther King/Mack Avenue, Canfield Avenue, Warren Avenue, Ferry Avenue, Amsterdam, the Amtrak station in New Center, and Grand Boulevard.)

Will this thing run on time?

M-1 Rail officials say departures will occur every 7 to 10 minutes during peak hours; 12 to 15 minutes during off-peak hours. The streetcar will have a dedicated light in some locations, though its unclear where. Six streetcars will be purchased for the transit line. It’s expected to cost $1.50 per ride, with fare passes operating on a trust-system of sorts; as Matt Cullen, M-1 Rail president & CEO, put it today, you’ll buy the pass before the streetcar arrives. But, Cullen said, someone will occasionally drop in to ensure everyone has in fact paid.

This thing only serves the greater downtown area, though!

True, M-1 Rail only stretches just over 3 miles, but it does feed into a number of connections to other transit systems including the Detroit People Mover (which, as we’ve pointed out previously, is probably needed to be viable), SMART and DDOT bus routes, and the New Center Amtrak station, which runs to Pontiac, Troy, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Chicago and more. (That proposed commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit probably wouldn’t hurt.)

It’s Friday. I want to park in Midtown and grab dinner somewhere, check out the Detroit Institute of Arts, and hit a nighttime Detroit Tigers game. Can I catch one of the streetcars after the game ends to get back to my car? 

Originally, the hours of operation were pegged at 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Paul Childs, M-1 Rail COO, said today that’s a likely benchmark the streetcar will follow at the beginning of operation. But, if the demand is there, Childs said they’ll be able to easily adjust. So, yeah, there’s still a chance that could happen.

How long is construction going to last?

Groundbreaking commences July 28. If all goes according to plan, construction should wrap up in 24-27 months, by late 2016. Childs and Cullen said enough safeguards are in place to ensure the timeline is attainable, barring some catastrophic winter with months of sub-zero temperatures.

What about detours. Is Woodward really going to be closed for 120 days

Well … yeah. Four months is a long time. Here’s the breakdown for the upcoming initial phase of construction set to begin later this month, as provided today by M-1 Rail:

  • South of Adams Street to Larned will be closed to traffic roughly until the end of 2014. But — but! — major cross streets will, for the most part, remain open.
  • From Adams to Chandler, one lane of traffic in each direction, along with a left turn lane, will be maintained throughout the remainder of the year.
  • One lane of traffic will be open for emergency situations around Campus Martius.

Construction will typically happen 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. There will be no action on Holidays, including New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas. No special events, like the annual parade, will be impacted. Pedestrians will have access to all businesses and residencies throughout construction, M-1 Rail says. Cyclists can roll on anywhere besides the construction work areas.

The I-75 and I-94 bridges will be entirely reconstructed and widened, as well. As MDOT rebuilds the two bridges, traffic will be reduced to one lane on Woodward over the freeway, while I-75 will be closed four times from M-10 to I-375. The full closures will occur on weekends from 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m Monday. For I-94, traffic will be slimmed back to one lane in each direction. At times, one to two lanes of the freeway will be closed during off-peak hours between John R and Cass.

What about DDOT and SMART service during construction? 

The 53 and the numerous SMART buses along Woodward will continue operating during construction, just at different stops. M-1 Rail suggests calling DDOT ahead of time at 888-336-8287, or SMART at 866-962-5515. Their websites are and And, in case you were wondering, the People Mover will still be operational.

Is that all?

Yeah, just remember the road will closed entirely between Campus Martius and Adams starting Monday, July 28. Any updates can be found at, or on Twitter @M1Rail. Or here.

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  • something

    2 questions.

    Will the sidewalks continue to be open when the road is closed?

    Will it be possible to buy an unlimited monthly pass of sorts, for those who would use this frequently?

  • ivsleep

    Seems like this project falls short of getting people into the city as well as out of the city. Sounds like another big people mover. Can they extends it all the way to Pontiac? That would really make Detroit more accessible.

  • don

    I would really like to see the proposed commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor materialize. This is good first step.

  • Ryan Felton

    Pedestrian access along sidewalks will remain open throughout construction. No idea about the second question, yet.

  • Ryan Felton

    The organizers are anticipating a proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line will be constructed. That would run from Pontiac to Detroit’s waterfront. Currently, SMART has service along Woodward that, during peak hours, offers service that takes, I believe, 55-60 minutes to travel from Pontiac to Detroit, vice versa.

  • LoveLife923

    It should be Underground or on the same level as the People mover, similar to New York or Chicago’s Transit system. Too much chaos, construction on the street level. Seeing that it’s on the street level, will it stop at Traffic Lights? Just curious how will the traffic in the opposite direction will move forward when the transit system is moving in the opposite direction. I can’t even see a Trolley operating on the street level unless it’s during times when there aren’t any activities. More or less a major the transit system on the ground level due to the high traffic when they are football games, baseball games, concerts and other activities going on in the downtown area. It will be too congested! Underground or on the Upper level would be more appropriate.

  • dan f

    Any idea how they are going to tackle the Amtrak rail viaduct? Its a pretty steep hill for the M1 and fairly low clearance.

  • Former Detroiter in NOLa

    Here in New Orleans, we have a growing streetcar system which operates on the busiest city roads. They do stop at lights and have caused no traffic problems, unlike busses.

  • withcaution

    This liberal slant group forgot the most important question, the cost. When you look at that you upfront cost, $135 million, factor a very conservative cost of money at 10% and that includes maintenance, an estimated 5 million Dollar per year cost to run the darn thing, you come up with a cost to run at $70,000 per day. And yet still we can’t figure out why just about every big industry/government in Michigan has faced or has gone bankrupt