Motor City Makeover

Aiding the Resurgence of Detroit

Detroit’s fortunes and those of its trademark trade – automobile manufacturing – are inextricably intertwined. The sharp and sustained slump in auto sales in 2008 and 2009, following decades of decline, contributed to Detroit’s bankruptcy in 2013.

But government officials, the private sector and the community have rolled up their sleeves and met the challenge with innovation and ambition, uniting around plans to revitalize the regional economy.

Visulalization of M-1 treetcar


This visualization depicts the M-1 Streetcar traveling along Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit.

In metropolitan Detroit, that means:

  • investing in advanced connected vehicle technologies that boost new vehicle sales and support jobs along the entire automotive industry supply chain;
  • offering multimodal transit options, such as the creation of a rapid transit system; and
  • bolstering an aging transportation network.

Turning this strategy into concrete reality necessitates working with partners who have experience, expertise and a comprehensive understanding of the region’s needs and goals.

Ed Tatem

One of those partners is WSP USA.

“Our clients know we are engaged in this community,” says Ed Tatem, U.S. transportation area manager for Michigan. “We live here. We were here for the good; we were here for the bad; we are here to help move this city – and this community – forward.”

Regional Transit

Detroit is currently the largest U.S. metropolitan region without a high-capacity rapid transit system. Working together, city and regional transportation and planning agencies seek to remedy that by implementing bus rapid transit (BRT) service throughout the region.

WSP undertook a two-year study to evaluate bus rapid transit options along Woodward Avenue – Detroit’s “Main Street” – on behalf of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA).

Sharmila Mukherjee©2013 KAREN MCCONNELL
Sharmila Mukherjee
Barbara Arens©2013 KAREN MCCONNELL
Barbara Arens

The Woodward Avenue Rapid Transit Alternatives Analysis reviewed a 48-kilometer (30-mile) corridor between Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan. As prime consultant, WSP was responsible for conducting all analyses leading up to the selection of a locally preferred alternative (LPA), along with a draft environmental review. LPA was successfully reached in 2014. Sharmila Mukherjee was project manager.

Under the LPA, the BRT would service 26 stations, running a loop from the Pontiac Transit Center to the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit, which was also designed by WSP. The firm is now working with stakeholders to implement the LPA.

These same stakeholders are also involved in a complementary Complete Streets study of the corridor. WSP is conducting the study, led by Barbara Arens, on behalf of the Woodward Avenue Action Association, a local nonprofit, to identify potential opportunities for sidewalks, bike lanes, cycle tracks, parking and alternate uses of the right-of-way to accommodate all modes of travel.

Downtown Transit

Sarah Binkowski©2013 KAREN MCCONNELL
Sarah Binkowski

Plans are also under way to improve mobility and circulation within the city – especially downtown.

The M-1 Rail Streetcar Project is a 5.3-kilometer (3.3-mile), fixed-rail, at-grade streetcar system that is being designed and built by M-1 Rail, a nonprofit consortium, in partnership with the City of Detroit and MDOT. The line will operate in mixed traffic entirely within the right-of-way of Woodward Avenue, running from Congress Street in downtown Detroit to north of Grand Boulevard uptown. It consists of 12 stations, with connections to Amtrak and the Detroit People Mover.

WSP was named the City of Detroit’s owner’s representative in August 2013, responsible for design review and construction quality assurance services for those portions within the city’s right-of-way. Sarah Binkowski is project manager.

track for m-1 rails streetcar


Crews lay track for M-1 Rail’s streetcar along Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

Construction of the line began in July 2014 and is expected to be ready for passenger service by late 2016.

Connected Transportation

A key ingredient in the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry has been a concentrated and cooperative effort among auto manufacturers, transportation agencies and policymakers to develop and expand connected vehicle technologies, which allow vehicles to communicate with one another and with roadside infrastructure, enabling a host of safety and mobility benefits to users and operational benefits to transportation agencies.

“This confluence of the auto industry and technology sectors could not only have a major impact on the economy of Michigan, but could also lead to significant changes to our industry,” says Scott Shogan, traffic engineering and ITS manager for the U.S. central region. “Everything from design standards to roadway capacity to the way we plan our cities could ultimately be impacted.”

Scott Shogan
Scott Shogan
Steve Kuciemba
Steve Kuciemba

WSP has been at the forefront of connected vehicle technology from its nascency and participated in the world’s largest field test of connected vehicle technologies: the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI)’s Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment. The three-year program involved the installation of wireless devices in nearly 3,000 vehicles and placement of signal controllers along two arterial corridors in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The controllers broadcast signal phase and timing data to the vehicles via a dedicated short-range communication network. The program evaluated the effectiveness of connected vehicle technology to prevent crashes in an everyday environment.

As UMTRI’s infrastructure team lead, WSP provided design of the roadside equipment communications network. Steve Kuciemba was project manager. Completed in August 2014, the program received a three-year renewal for expansion. WSP will continue on as the infrastructure lead.

Trusted Partner

WSP has long-standing relationships with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT).

Daniel Beard
Daniel Beard

The firm performs a variety of transportation planning, engineering and architectural services for various DDOT transit projects on an on-call basis. Currently, the company provides planning and program development assistance to create and implement a framework for the management and implementation of DDOT capital projects using project management lifecycle methodologies.

The firm also furnishes federal financial and planning advisory assistance for strategic grant opportunities. It was under this arrangement that, in September 2014, WSP helped DDOT secure $25.9 million to buy 50 new buses through the Federal Transit Administration’s Ladders of Opportunity initiative. Transportation Planner Daniel Beard prepared DDOT’s successful application.

MDOT has been systematically upgrading its freeway network in an effort to take commercial trucking traffic off local streets, relieve congestion and improve safety and travel times. Parsons Brinckerhoff is supporting MDOT on the following projects:

Jeff Chenault©2012 DAVID SAILORS
Jeff Chenault
  • Civil design for the total reconstruction of an 8-kilometer (5-mile) portion of I-75 in Monroe County. The project includes rehabilitation of bridges, reconstruction of the mainline, ramps along the corridor, two weigh stations and upgrades to signage, guard rails, median barriers, drainage, lighting and pavement markers. Jeff Chenault is the project manager.
  • MDOT’s representative for the modernization of 29 kilometers (18 miles) of I-75 in Oakland County. The project features the addition of the first high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in Michigan, the replacement of 51 bridges and drainage system improvements. Arens is the project manager.

This partnership extends into community engagement, notes Tatem.

WSP and MDOT are working together to rehabilitate three baseball diamonds for youth softball and baseball teams in Detroit. “We are helping almost 300 student athletes,” Tatem says.

Jasmine Sisson
Jasmine Sisson

The firm also participated in an October 2014 career-preparation event at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Jasmine Sisson coordinated the event and was joined by Arens, Lauren Warren, Marcia Yockey (Detroit) and Christina Branch (Lansing) as well as MDOT volunteers. They held mock interviews and conducted resume reviews for engineering students.

“We are partners not only in work, but in play and in the care of our communities,” says Tatem. “We are very proud to be of assistance to the city and the citizens of Detroit.”


    twitter-icon linkedin-icon  instagram-icon  facebook-icon

    Subscribe to newsletter