Ann Arbor city council special meeting (March 16, 2011): At a special meeting that had been announced at a city council work session two days earlier, the Ann Arbor city council voted to authorize signing a contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation related to a $13.9 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) II grant.
Announcement of the grant’s award to the city for the reconstruction of the East Stadium Boulevard bridges had come in October 2010. The bridge over State Street is in such poor condition that its southern two lanes were intentionally demolished in November 2009.
The council’s special session reflected an urgency to complete the contract. The council has a regular meeting scheduled next Monday, March 21 – just five calendar days after the special session – when the council could also have taken the necessary vote on the contract.
The urgency stemmed from the March 18 expiration of a continuing resolution (CR) passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 2. A CR is a mechanism for keeping the federal government operating, based on the previous fiscal year’s budget assumptions, until formal appropriations bills are passed by Congress. The federal budget procedure is essentially a two-step process in which the budget levels for each department are first set and signed into law, followed by appropriations bills that authorize spending the budgeted amounts.
Based on proposals brought forward in February by U.S. House Republicans, but ultimately not enacted, the current two-week CR would have eliminated TIGER II grants. And based on the political posturing that took place over the current CR, the Ann Arbor city council was taking the step of signing the contract as soon as it could, to allow the U.S. Federal Highway Administration to “obligate” the TIGER II grant funds for the bridges project under the current CR – as a hedge against the possibility that a subsequent CR might cut TIGER II funding.
Although the grant had previously been awarded, the funds are not secured until they are actually obligated, a process that includes various requirements – among them, signing the contract that the council authorized at its special session.
The council’s action enabled obligation of TIGER II funds only for the right-of-way phase of the project – which amounts to around $800,000. According to Congressman John Dingell’s office staff, they’d been informed by the Dept. of Transportation on March 15 that the $800,000 for the initial phase had just been obligated.
Based on the city of Ann Arbor’s timeline, obligation of the $13.1 million in TIGER II funds for the construction phase is expected in May. Construction on the project, which is estimated to cost a total of $23 million, is tentatively scheduled for October 2011.
A public information meeting on the status of the project is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Pioneer High School cafeteria. Pioneer is located at 601 W. Stadium – just down the street from the bridges.
Given the single item on the agenda, the special meeting was brief, but councilmembers still had substantive questions. Three city staff members were on hand to answer them: Sue McCormick, public services area administrator; Homayoon Pirooz, the city’s head of project management; and Mike Nearing, the city engineer who’s directly responsible for managing the bridge reconstruction project. This report begins with the council questions and answers, and continues with additional background detail organized roughly based on councilmember questions.
Council Deliberations: Right-of-Way
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the city was confident that the University of Michigan is a willing partner in providing to the city the rights-of-way that it needs in order to complete the project.
Pirooz told Kunselman that the city had been talking with the university staff since October of 2010, and that the university has seen all the pieces of property, and descriptions for them, that the city is requesting.
Next week the city will be making a good faith offer, Pirooz said, and then the ball will be in the university’s court. Pirooz said he hoped that the university would accept the offer.
Council Deliberations: Obligation of Funds
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if the signing of the contract, which the council was approving that night, would actually “obligate” the funds from the TIGER II grant. Pirooz explained that the $13.9 million from the grant would be obligated in two steps, corresponding to the two phases of the project: (1) the right-of-way phase, and (2) the construction phase.
When the contract is signed, Pirooz said, the first $800,000 of the grant would be obligated – “locked in.” After that, the city can make an offer to the UM for the rights-of-way needed for the project. On acceptance by the university, the city can then, under the same contract, lock in the remaining $13.1 million for the construction phase of the project.
Council Deliberations: Timeline
Tony Derezisnki (Ward 2) wanted to know how things stood on the overall timeline for the project. Pirooz told him that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation will be advertising the construction jobs to solicit bids in the summer and that they will be awarded in September. Construction is expected to start in October 2011.
Right-of-Way (ROW) Acquisition
The action taken on Wednesday by the Ann Arbor city council to approve the U.S. Dept. of Transportation contract will allow the obligation – “the locking in” – of the initial right-of-way acquisition phase of the project. From the contract:
Phase 1 – Right-of-Way Acquisition
This phase of the project consists of acquiring five, small, irregularly-shaped parcels of land that are needed for permanent right-of-way; and, three, small, irregularly-shaped parcels of land that are needed for underground utility easements for the subject project. Also to be acquired for the subject project are seven, temporary grading permit areas, that are needed for the purposes of constructing the project and will be restored to their original condition upon completion of the project.
The Federal funds for phase 1 may only be used on the costs associated with the purchase of the permanent right-of-way needed and the acquisition of the seven, temporary grading permit areas. No Federal funds, including TIGER II grant funds, will be used to reimburse the cost of ROW acquisition activities that were incurred prior to the date of obligation of the Federal funds.
Based on an October 2009 project design, a total of around half an acre of UM property would need to be acquired by the city in order to complete the bridge reconstruction project. The parcels in question are part of the Crisler Arena parking lot, the UM golf course, the field hockey facility, and the Red Lot (a parking lot).
The contract calls for the city to make a “good faith offer” to the university for the parcels, which are needed either as permanent conveyance or as utility easements. The city and the university have a history of conveying right-of-way to each other, either permanently or for temporary use.
In response to a query from The Chronicle, Jim Kosteva – UM’s director of community relations of community relations – gave examples of past projects that involved the university’s permanent conveyance of right-of-way to the city without a cash transaction: (1) expansion of Main Street at the intersection of Main and Stadium Boulevard to add a turn lane; (2) reconfiguration of Fuller Road around the VA hospital area to connect at Glazier Way; and (3) reconfiguration of Huron Parkway.
On the flip side, with the city permanently donating land to the university, Kosteva also gave examples: (1) the section of East University Avenue between North University and South University; (2) Monroe Street between Tappan and East University. [The university has also expressed interest in the last few years in acquiring the right-of-way between South State and Tappan on Monroe Street, but has up to this point received an unenthusiastic response from the city.]
In the category of temporary use of right-of-way, Kosteva offered various university construction projects that have required lane closures, most notably the football stadium renovation project, the construction of the North Quad dorm at State and Huron, and the law school project currently underway at State and Monroe. The city charges 1.5 cents per square foot per day for temporary use of the right-of-way. While the amount sounds trivial, Kosteva said that it has added up to several hundred thousand dollars over the last few years.
[To illustrate how the 1.5 cents can add up, consider a 12-foot-wide lane, and the 1,570-foot distance for one block of Main Street from Stadium Boulevard to Pauline Boulevard, for a closure of, say, 100 days. That works out to 12*1,570*.015*100 = $28,260]
Why Call a Special Meeting?
By way of background, the federal budget procedure is based on a fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30. The budget for the state of Michigan is aligned to that fiscal schedule, as are those of some other local units of government – like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, for example. In contrast, the city of Ann Arbor’s budget year begins July 1 and ends June 30.
Once the city’s budget is approved each May by the city council, that money can be spent. However, throughout the year, the city council will vote on myriad contracts, because the power to make contracts on the city’s behalf is, per the city charter, vested in the council. Some dollar figure is associated with those contracts. A typical question asked by a councilmember of the city administrator on a night when the council is asked to vote to authorize a contract is: Where is this money coming from? A typical part of the answer is: This money has been authorized as part of the budget you approved last May.
On the federal level, once Congress approves the budget – which sets the dollar figures for all the departments – an additional step is required in order to allow any money to be spent. That additional step is the passage of various appropriations bills that specify with greater precision how the money in each department is to be allocated.
To gain time to consider and debate appropriations bills, Congress can use a continuing resolution (CR) to extend the habit and practice of spending from the previous year’s budget, to keep the federal government running. In December 2010, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, a CR that extended funding through March 4, 2011. In mid-February, as the expiration of that CR loomed, House Republicans announced a plan to pass a new CR, but with $100 billion in cuts, which would have also cut the TIGER II grant program. Though approved by the House, the Senate balked, and Republicans settled for a two-week CR with $4 billion in cuts – which spared TIGER II funding.
With the two-week CR set to expire on March 18, the Ann Arbor city council scheduled a March 16 special session, so it could authorize the agreement with the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (USDOT), which would allow the USDOT to obligate the TIGER II funds for the $800,000 phase 1 part of the East Stadium bridges project. The initial phase of the project involves acquisition of right-of-way from the University of Michigan – a disjoint mix of small, irregularly shaped parcels. According to Congressman John Dingell’s office staff, they received word from USDOT on March 15 that the phase 1 funds had, in fact, already been obligated.
Also on March 15, the House passed another three-week CR, which also maintained the TIGER II grant funding, extending governmental operation funds through April 8.
In that context, the special city council meeting may not have been necessary; however, the obligation of those funds was not known when the special council meeting was announced by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) at the March 14 city council work session. In addition to clearing the logistical hurdles of identifying a venue and coordinating with councilmember schedules, the council needed to meet the Michigan Open Meetings Act requirement that special meetings are given a minimum 18-hour public notice before the meeting.
The Ann Arbor city charter provides a specific procedure for calling a special meeting:
Special meetings of the Council shall be held at the regular meeting place thereof and shall be called by the Clerk on written request of the Mayor or any three members of the Council. Written notice stating the time and purpose of a special meeting shall be delivered to each member of the Council or left at the member’s usual place of residence at least three hours prior to the time set for the meeting. The Clerk shall record a certificate of service of notice in the journal of such meeting. A special meeting may be held notwithstanding lack of notice if all members are present, or if a quorum is present and each absent member has filed with the Clerk a written waiver of notice. A vote taken by the Council at a prior meeting shall not be reconsidered at a special meeting, unless as many members are present as were present when the original vote was taken. Except by unanimous consent of all members of the Council, a matter shall not be acted upon at any special meeting unless it has been included in the notice of the meeting.
Due to ongoing renovations at city hall, since January the “regular meeting” place of the city council has been either at the Washtenaw County boardroom or the Community Television Network (CTN) studios. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners were holding their regular meeting in their boardroom on Wednesday evening, which left the CTN studios as an option.
East Stadium Bridge Construction Timeline
The timeline the city is using includes a construction start in October 2011. The contract authorized by the council on Wednesday night includes a target completion date in June 2013, with the bridges open to traffic again eight months before that, in November 2012.
Tentative Date Task March 2011 Complete appraisals of UM properties March 2011 City Council approval of TIGER II Grant Agreement March 2011 Execute TIGER II Grant Agreement by US-DOT March 2011 FHWA Authorization of TIGER II Funds (for ROW Phase only) March 2011 Prepare and submit "Good Faith Offer" to UM for ROW April 2011 City Council approval/acceptance of ROW from UM April 2011 Execute and record all permanent ROW instruments May 2011 Certification of all ROW to MDOT May 2011 MDOT/FHWA Authorization of TIGER II Funds (for Construction Contract) June 2011 MDOT Advertises the Construction Contract July 2011 City Council Approval of City/State Agreement Sept 2011 MDOT receive bids from the contractors Oct 2011 MDOT issues "Notice to Proceed" to Bridge Construction Contractor Nov 2012 Bridge open to traffic again June 2013 Project complete
Timeline of East Stadium Bridge History
The East Stadium Boulevard bridges – one over State Street and the other over the railroad tracks – have a long history. Here’s an overview focused on the last five years.
- 1973: Voters approve a millage to fund a bond to repair the East Stadium bridge. The proposed bond sale on the ballot included $800,000 for creation of a citywide bicycle system using existing streets and new pathways, and $360,000 designated for repair of the East Stadium bridge. At the time, the debate centered on whether the new bridge design should accommodate a wider roadway for State Street. On the same ballot was a transit millage, which passed as well – the same millage that supports today’s Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
- 2006: The city of Ann Arbor is awarded $766,000 from Michigan’s local bridge program (MLBP), but the city allowed the award to expire a year later, because the amount did not go far enough towards funding the project. The alternative to expiration would have been to spend the MLBP money towards bridge reconstruction.
- 2006: The city pays $1,249,467 to Northwest Consultants Inc. (NCI) for preliminary design engineering of the comprehensive bridge project that included bridge replacement, a transmission water main, storm sewer, and a South Main non-motorized path.
- 2007: After a biannual inspection of the bridge, weight limits were reduced on the span. The limits were set as follows: 31 tons (reduced from 38 tons) for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 39 tons (reduced from 48 tons) for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 44 tons (reduced from 54 tons) for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers).
- 2007: On Sept. 18, 2007 and Oct. 2, 2007 at Pioneer High School’s cafeteria, informational workshops are held on a comprehensive project to address replacement of the span over State Street as well as the one over the railroad, including non-motorized improvements (i.e., sidewalks) extending along Stadium Boulevard to Main Street and south along Main to Scio Church Road. Those workshops are well attended, especially by members of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club, which is located near the bridges.
- 2007: On Dec. 29, 2007 there are reports of “medium-sized pieces of concrete” falling off one of the 16 pre-stressed concrete box beams supporting the roadway.
- 2008: Early January re-inspection by city staff and bridge engineering consultants leads to the short-term recommendation of a traffic control order further reducing weight limits: 19 tons for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 24 tons for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 26 tons for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers).
- 2008: In March, the vision for a comprehensive renovation of the bridges plus the corridor from Main to White streets meets with a funding setback. The Michigan Dept. of Transportation awards only $760,000 for the project, though the total cost was estimated at that time at around $35 million.
- 2008: On Oct. 22, 2008 Northwest Consultants Inc. – the engineering consultant for the bridge – performs biennial inspection.
- 2009: In early February, Northwest Consultants is called back to re-examine the bridge. A 7/8 inch deflection of the beam is found. [Chronicle coverage: "Discontent Emerges at Caucus" and "Building Bridges"] The bridge safety rating has dropped to 2 on a scale of 100.
- 2009: In March, traffic is rerouted so that it’s limited to the bridge’s northern lanes, and does not pass over the beams showing deflection. [Chronicle coverage: "How the E. Stadium Bridge Gets Monitored" and "Council Gets Update on Stadium Bridges"] The project scope is reduced from the more ambitious work on the corridor to just replacement of the two bridges.
- 2009: On Sept. 15, 2009 the bridge inspection consultant, Northwest Consultants, inspects the East Stadium bridge over South State Street, and recommends removing the five southernmost beams.
- 2009: On Oct. 5, 2009 the city council authorizes expenditure to remove five beams.
- 2009: On Oct. 28, 2009 and again on Dec. 1, 2009, public meetings are held to discuss design.
- 2009: In November, five beams are removed from the bridge.
- 2009: In November, the state’s local bridge advisory board awards no funds for the Ann Arbor bridge project, citing the lack of any other non-city funding available for the project. [Chronicle coverage: "State Board: No Funding for Stadium Bridges "]
- 2010: In February, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announces the final recipients of the federal TIGER grant – they do not include the city of Ann Arbor.
- 2010: In October, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announces recipients of TIGER II grants – Ann Arbor is included on the list with a $13.9 million grant award.
- 2010: In November, the state of Michigan announces an award of $1.67 million from its local bridge program and $1.2 million from its transportation enhancement funds, bringing the total of grants supporting the project to around $16.8 million, or about 73% of the total $23 million estimated cost of the project.
Communications and Comment
Every city council agenda contains an opportunity for the public to address the meeting. On Wednesday, no one spoke.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Christopher Taylor
Next regular council meeting: March 21, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]