Detroit has become a place Hollywood directors come for great wreckage shots. One quarter of the city's 140 square miles are deserted. Detroit public school students boast the nation's worst reading scores, the products of a corruption-ridden school system that recently flirted with bankruptcy. Detroit bested Baltimore in 2009 to take the dreaded "murder capital" title. It may also be the worst place in the country to have a heart attack: prepare to wait half an hour for an ambulance.
In a town lacking essential services, what do local leaders and federal politicians have in mind for helping the city? What's needed to hoist Detroit back to its 1950 heyday, when it was America's fourth largest city, with more than double its current population?
Why, light rail, of course!
The Motor City is moving ahead with a plan to build a 9.3-mile light rail line that will run from downtown Detroit to the edge of the suburbs. It'll cost an estimated $500 million. Three-quarters of the bill will be paid by federal taxpayers, with the rest picked up by a consortium of foundations and businesses.
If built, the project will end up on the Mackinac Center's list of government-subsidized white elephants touted as "crucial to Detroit's comeback," its "rebirth," and pivotal to "turning things around." In reality, it'll just be another train to nowhere, much like Detroit's existing light rail line, the unfortunately named "People Mover," which operates at 2.5% of capacity.
For more on Detroit's light rail folly, check out Reason Foundation's Adrian Moore and Shikha Dalmia's rebuttal to PBS's recent documentary, "Beyond the Motor City," which laid out the case that light rail can, yes, "revive" Detroit.
Produced by Jim Epstein. Approximately 5.45 minutes.