Archive for January, 2012

Transit: Ridership Data Roundup

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council is currently contemplating a major decision on adopting the legal framework by which its local transit authority could transition to a countywide system of governance – or at least one that is geographically bigger than the city of Ann Arbor. The decision on ratifying a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Washtenaw County – was postponed for the second time at the council’s Monday, Jan. 23 meetingThe council meets next on Feb. 6. 

Amtrak train and AATA Bus

Amtrak train pulling away (despite appearances) from the Ann Arbor station on Jan. 25, 2012. Later that same day, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses converging on downtown Ann Arbor's Blake Transit Center. (Photos by the writer.)

The Chronicle is taking the pause between council meetings as an opportunity to offer readers a look at Ann Arbor’s current bus system ridership numbers over the last several years.

Part of a 30-year transit vision developed by the AATA includes the relocation of the Amtrak station – from Depot Street to a spot in the city’s Fuller Park. The proposed city/University of Michigan collaboration on the Fuller Road Station includes a large parking structure for the UM medical complex as its first phase. So we’re also taking a look at current ridership data on the Amtrak line through Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor’s regular fixed route bus system provided 5.95 million rides for fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, 2011. That’s slightly better than the previous year, but was slightly off the record high year of 6.02 million rides delivered in FY 2009. The first three months of the 2012 fiscal year – October, November and December 2011 – show slight increases over the monthly numbers for FY 2011.

Of those 5.95 million rides provided by AATA in FY 2011, 2.43 million of them (41%) were provided through the University of Michigan MRide program – which allows faculty, students and staff of the university to board AATA buses without paying a fare. The cost for the service is paid by UM to the AATA. It was a record-setting year for the MRide program.

Also making up a portion of those 5.95 million rides were trips taken by holders of the getDowntown go!pass program, which allows downtown Ann Arbor employers to provide free bus passes for their employees for a nominal cost – the cost of the rides is funded through a grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

In FY 2011, 634,000 rides were provided under the go!pass program – a 23% increase over FY 2010, adding to the trend of monotonically increasing numbers of go!pass rides over the last decade. The first three months of FY 2012 don’t show the same kind of double-digit increases for go!pass use as FY 2011 – they’re tracking roughly the same as last year.

The number of riders getting on and off the Amtrak trains that passed through Ann Arbor during the 2011 calendar year was 141,522. That figure tracked close to the same level of activity the station has seen since 2006 – from 140,000 to 145,000 riders. Through May 2011, Amtrak was on pace to eclipse the record number of riders in 2010 (145,040). But starting in July 2011, ridership was lower in every month (compared to 2010) through the end of the year.

Charts and graphs by The Chronicle – as well as more detailed breakdowns – are provided after the break. [Full Story]

UM: Bicycling Forum

The Michigan Daily reports on a University of Michigan town hall meeting held in January to discuss issues related to bicycling on campus and in Ann Arbor, including a planned campus bike rental system. The article quotes Steven Dolen, executive director of UM’s parking and transportation unit: “The rental program is our first step in really showing our commitment. I think it’s a small step, but it is something we can do quickly that we know there is a need (for) and what people want to see more (of). So we think this is a great way to start.” [Source]

Park Group Recommends Ballpark Overhaul

At its Jan. 24, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission unanimously recommended a nearly $1 million contract to renovate softball and baseball fields at three city parks.

If approved by the city council, the $982,333 contract would be awarded to RMD Holdings of Chesterfield, Michigan. That amount includes a $893,030 base bid plus a 10% contingency of $89,303. It was the lowest of four bids received for the project, which will focus on the fenced ballparks at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park. Originally, the city had intended to include fields at Allmendinger Park as well, but bids came in higher than expected and that work was eliminated from the project.

The renovations have been in the works for … [Full Story]

UM’s Business of Research, Academics

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Jan. 19, 2012): The sixth floor of UM’s Ross School of Business was the venue for January’s meeting, where regents and executives dispatched the university’s business with an alacrity called for by president Mary Sue Coleman. There was no indication at the time that U.S. president Barack Obama would be speaking here later this month. News of his speech – to be delivered on Friday morning, Jan. 27 at UM’s Al Glick Fieldhouse – was announced on Monday.

Mary Sue Coleman

Before the start of the Jan. 19 board of regents meeting, UM president Mary Sue Coleman scanned an article from The Chronicle – but not this Chronicle. It's a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Photos by the writer.)

Instead, regents dealt with less high-profile matters, approving a range of action items with little discussion. Those included funding for a major expansion of the UM Health System into Wayne County, along the I-275 corridor; renovations that will transform the entrance to Schembechler Hall and make a museum of football memorabilia more accessible to the public; and improvements to the university’s Northwood apartment complex on north campus.

But much of the meeting consisted of reports. Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, presented a sobering outlook for future research funding, calling the climate for federal funding “worrisome.” After his talk, regent Andrea Fischer Newman pointed out that tuition is helping to support the university’s $1.2 billion research program – about 25% of those research expenditures are covered internally.

Regents also heard from dean Alison Davis-Blake, who described how the business school is countering the caricature of managers that are only focused on short-term profits, and whose management skills consist of the ability to say, “You’re fired!” Graduates of Ross are taught to think more broadly, she said.

An item not on the agenda of the Jan. 19 meeting received considerable attention during public commentary. One student and three professors spoke against an effort to unionize graduate student research assistants (GSRAs).

Also during public commentary, the chair of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley group raised concerns over the proposed Fuller Road Station, saying that the joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project runs counter to the university’s sustainability efforts. Fuller Road Station’s initial phase is a proposed parking structure, located near the UM medical campus, that could hold over 1,000 vehicles. [Full Story]

How to Get Tickets for Obama Speech

The University of Michigan has released more details about the Friday, Jan. 27 speech to be given by president Barack Obama, beginning at 9:35 a.m. at UM’s Al Glick Field House, 1300 S. State St. The event is free and open to the general public, but tickets are required. Tickets will be distributed one per person on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Michigan Union ticket office. The union is located at 530 S. State, at the intersection of South University. The ticket office is on the ground floor level.

The White House announced Obama’s plan to speak at the university on Monday. His last appearance in Ann Arbor was to deliver … [Full Story]

W. Liberty & First

A peek through window of University of Michigan’s Art & Design studio reveals many lovely examples of new art and design.

Ann Arbor Again Delays 4-Party Transit Deal

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council again delayed action on a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide governance incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

The council postponed action until its Feb. 6 meeting, but not before undertaking several amendments to the text of the agreement. The council had previously postponed action at its Jan. 9 meeting and had set a public hearing for Jan. 23. A few dozen people appeared before the council to speak during the hearing.

The four-party agreement – between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – would establish a framework for making a transition of the AATA to a countywide system of governance under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

The transition to a countywide governance and funding base is intended to (1) ensure stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which until now has depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided.

In the four party-agreement, the role of the two cities – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – would be to pledge their current transit millages to the new authority, contingent on identifying a countywide funding source. The two cities currently levy millages that are designated for public transit and are passed through to the AATA. For Ann Arbor, that’s currently just over 2 mills. For Ypsilanti, which uses the proceeds of the tax – approved in November 2010 – to fund its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA, the levy is just under 1 mill. [One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

As part of the four-party agreement, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would agree that AATA’s existing assets would be assumed by the new Act 196 transit authority, and they’d also agree to assign their existing millages to the new Act 196 authority. But the asset transfer and the millage assignment would be contingent on identifying a countywide funding source for the new Act 196 authority.

Although the council postponed action, it did undertake several amendments to the accord.

Completely struck was a section that contemplated the possibility that “funding sources are elected to fund the NEW TA [transit authority] which do not require voter approval.” A new addition was the explicit requirement that the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would need to vote to adopt the articles of incorporation that Washtenaw County would file to formally incorporate the new Act 196 transit authority. [.pdf of draft articles of incorporation]

A phrase was inserted in two spots (one for each of the cities) to place on the new Act 196 transit authority a requirement to the effect that the new authority must provide to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti “at a minimum, the continued level of services provided by its predecessor-in-interest, AATA, …”

Another revision highlighted at the beginning of some relevant paragraphs the condition that must be met in order for the substance of the paragraph to apply, and expresses it in terms of time, not abstract logic: “After all of the Section 8 contingencies to Closing are satisfied, …”

Another revision accommodated the possibility that some municipalities might choose to opt out of an Act 196 authority if one were to be incorporated – by swapping in “authority-wide” for the phrase “county-wide.” Those amendments undertaken by the council are reflected in the marked up document: [.pdf of marked up four-party agreement]

An additional revision approved by the council stipulates that if Ann Arbor is the only municipality in the county that opts in to the Act 196 authority, then the agreement is null and void.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that at the council’s next meeting, he’d bring forward a possible amendment to change the composition of the board of the new transit authority that’s described in the four-party agreement, so that Ann Arbor has a majority. The original version, which remains in place, calls for a 15-member board to which Ann Arbor would appoint seven members. Ypsilanti would have one seat, and a district that includes Ypsilanti and August townships would have two seats (the southeast district). Pittsfield Township would constitute a district. The other four seats would come from districts labeled as follows: west, north central, northeast, south central. [.jpg of map showing board composition of Act 196 transit authority]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located, at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Renews AATA Policing Contract

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized a renewal to the agreement under which it supplies policing services to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – at the transit agency’s downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center.

The agreement entails the provision of a dedicated officer for the location. The previous agreement had expired on Oct. 31, 2011. Cost of the services to the AATA is $75,000, with a $5,000 increase per year after Oct. 31, 2012. The point of the increases is to get the contract value back to the fully-burdened cost, which is $112,000.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Backs Opposition to PA 297

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution opposing Michigan’s Public Act 297, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2011. The act prohibits public employers from providing employee medical and fringe benefits to those who are not married to an employee, a dependent of the employee, or eligible to inherit from the employee under the laws of intestate succession. [.pdf of PA 297]

It’s not legal in Michigan for same-sex couples to marry. PA 297 thus effectively eliminates the possibility of providing benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Ann Arbor provides employee benefits to “other qualified adults,” a definition that includes same-sex domestic partners. [.pdf of Ann Arbor employee retirement system definition of other qualified adult] Nine current or retired city of Ann Arbor employees are impacted by PA 297.

Before the bill was signed, the council – at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting – passed a resolution calling on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign the bill into law.

On Jan. 5, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in U.S. district court against Snyder on behalf of four couples. Four of the eight plaintiffs are residents of Ann Arbor. The public employer for the two Ann Arbor couples is the Ann Arbor Public Schools. [.pdf of complaint against Rick Snyder] The resolution directs the Ann Arbor city attorney to assist the ACLU in the lawsuit in whatever way is useful, including filing an amicus brief.

The resolution approved by the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 23 also cites Ann Arbor’s history of commitment to non-discrimination and protections for those of all sexual orientations. [.pdf of Ann Arbor's non-discrimination ordinance]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Council: Use Discretion on Immigration

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution opposing federal policies that detain people and that result in deportation of immigrants who have not committed a “serious criminal offense” and who have long-standing ties to the United States. The council’s resolution supports the use of prosecutorial discretion in such cases. The resolution also calls for timely legalization of undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious criminal offense.

Out of 10 reserved spots for public commentary at the start of the meeting, eight people signed up to address the resolution on immigration.

The council previously passed a resolution, on July 6, 2010, opposing an Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully.

The council’s resolution passed at its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting comes after they’d heard a plea at their Dec. 5, 2011 meeting from 14-year Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who faced deportation in late December. She was subsequently given a one-year reprieve. The council’s resolution did not address Bautista’s situation specifically.

The resolution was opposed by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

UM: Obama

The Detroit News reports that president Barack Obama will make a speech at the University of Michigan’s Al Glick Field House on Friday, Jan. 27, but details aren’t yet available about the time of the speech or who’ll be allowed into the venue. Obama, who’ll deliver his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, last visited the UM campus to deliver the May 1, 2010 commencement address at Michigan Stadium. [Source]

A2: Sidewalk Art

David Zinn, an Ann Arbor artist known for his sidewalk chalk art, posts a photo of a drawing appropriate for this rainy day: Sluggo with an orange umbrella. [Source]

Ann Arbor OKs $10M for Wastewater Project

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized a $10,802,423 contract with Malcolm Pirnie Inc. for engineering services related to the facilities renovation project (FRP) at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The city’s wastewater treatment facility includes an East Plant and West Plant. The West Plant has been taken offline due to its dilapidated condition and is planned to be demolished and replaced. The project also includes a number of improvements throughout the facility, including a new electrical distribution system, new emergency power generators, utilities relocation, and replacement of stormwater collection system equipment.

The total project cost  is well over $100 million and is expected to be financed in part with low-interest loans through Michigan’s state revolving fund program, which is administered by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. [For additional background on the project, see The Ann Arbor Observer's "The Flow Never Stops" from April 2009.]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Transit Issue Raised at County Board

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 18, 2012): The Ann Arbor city council has been grappling with the issue of a four-party countywide transit agreement – a resolution regarding the accord is on Monday’s council agenda. And although Washtenaw County is one of the four parties being asked to approve the agreement, it hasn’t come before the county board yet as a formal resolution.

Stephen Kunselman, Mary Jo Callan

At the Washtenaw County board of commissioners Jan. 18, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman talks with Mary Jo Callan, director of the joint Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community and economic development. Kunselman was on hand to air concerns about the proposed countywide transit authority. (Photos by the writer.)

However, the issue emerged at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting when two people – including city councilmember Stephen Kunselman – spoke during public commentary to share their views with county commissioners. Among Kunselman’s points was a concern that Ann Arbor might end up shouldering the burden for countywide transit, if most other communities opt out.

A few commissioners responded to the public commentary. Alicia Ping – who represents a district covering Saline and several townships in southwest Washtenaw – indicated that many people in her district were not inclined to participate in a countywide transit authority. Wes Prater expressed concerns about the process so far, calling it convoluted and confusing.

The main action at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting also reflected ties between the county and Ann Arbor – a presentation and vote on the consolidation of county and Ann Arbor 911 dispatch services. The proposal, which was unanimously approved, called for entering into a contract with the city from Feb. 1, 2012 to Jan. 30, 2017. The city will pay $759,089 annually for dispatch services. In addition, the county expects to receive an increase of $677,893 annually from 911 fees. The Ann Arbor city council had already approved the agreement at its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton told commissioners that he believes the dispatch model they’re developing will be among the best practices nationally, and will be replicated by other dispatch operations in the country. This partnership between Washtenaw County’s two largest public safety entities will strengthen core police services in the county, he said.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to one of the last remaining contracts with a union representing Washtenaw County employees – a two-year collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 3052, representing 52 general supervisors. A final vote by the board is expected at its Feb. 1 meeting. Negotiations continue with four remaining bargaining units that have not yet reached an agreement on a new contract.

The board also approved a brownfield plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a development in Ann Arbor at the corner of Washtenaw and Platt, and formally accepted a $3 million grant to support the Washtenaw County Sustainable Community project, which focuses on the Washtenaw Avenue corridor spanning Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti Township. Arbor Hills Crossing will be located along that corridor.

County administrator Verna McDaniel updated the board on turning over the Washtenaw Head Start program to federal officials, a move that commissioners had approved last year as part of the budget process. The county will end its 46-year affiliation with Head Start on July 31. McDaniel reported that the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is interested in applying to take over the program locally, and that federal officials plan to issue a request for proposals (RFP) during the first quarter of this year.

Not mentioned during McDaniel’s update was the status of an investigation begun last year into actions of the program’s two top officials, director Patricia Horne McGee and Lovida Roach, the program’s second-in-command. Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, said the allegations that prompted the investigation were “founded.” Heidt said the county could not release details, but that no misuse of funds was involved. Horne McGee retired at the end of 2011. Roach will remain on leave until the county relinquishes control of Head Start, and at that point she will also retire, Heidt said.

The meeting also included a transition of sorts. Commissioner Leah Gunn has typically taken on the parliamentary action of moving the agenda at each of the board’s meetings, which entails reading off the agenda items. Gunn, who is not running for re-election this year, announced that Wednesday’s meeting was her “farewell agenda” – she would be relinquishing that task for the remainder of her tenure on the board. [Her term runs through the end of 2012.] After she completed the task this final time, Yousef Rabhi teased her, saying Gunn “moved the agenda very well.” [Full Story]

A2: Future Stars

Writing on her blog, radio talk show host Lucy Ann Lance describes her experience judging Pioneer High School’s Future Stars competition with fellow judges – including University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and wide receiver Kelvin Grady. Lance writes: ”Denard wears his charisma and star-quality well, because he is oblivious to both. Just as he assesses the play on the field, waiting to make sure his receiver is in the perfect spot before throwing the ball, Denard listens carefully to people he’s talking with, asking them questions, and making them feel special.” [Source]

Ypsi: Music

The Eastern Echo reviews the band Team Ethic, with Ypsilanti musicians Joel Skene, Carl Greene, Ed Golembiewski and Abbott Daimler. The review quotes Daimler: “We’re enamored with ’90s rock music, and are leftist, working class slobs. We have mortgages and day jobs and tend to spend every bit of free time at one of the many fine taverns in Ypsilanti, at a dance party, or playing music. On a good night, we get to do all three.” For Chronicle readers looking for local government connections, Golembiewski is Washtenaw County deputy clerk and director of elections. [Source]

AAPS Mulls Suing State over School Aid Fund

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Annual Organizational Meeting (Jan. 18, 2012): A report about state revenues from AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen prompted the school board to start contemplating a possible lawsuit against the state of Michigan.  The suit would be based on the state’s use of the School Aid Fund.

Andy Thomas and Simone Lightfoot are sworn in as re-elected board members

Simone Lightfoot and Andy Thomas raise their right hands as they're sworn in at the Jan. 18, 2012 AAPS board meeting. They were both re-elected to the board last November. Sitting between them is board member Glenn Nelson. (Photo by the writer.)

Also at the meeting, the board handled myriad internal board organizational issues, typical for the board’s first meeting after the start of the term for newly elected members.

After a 15-minute delay coming out of an executive session, the AAPS board launched into its first meeting of the new year, beginning with trustees Simone Lightfoot and Andy Thomas taking their oaths of office after winning re-election this past November. Though elected to four-year terms, both trustees will likely serve the board through 2016 – in five-year terms – due to recent state legislation mandating that school board elections take place only in even-numbered Novembers.

The board’s first order of business was to elect its officers. Three of the four board officer positions were uncontested re-elections, and were approved unanimously – Deb Mexicotte as president, Irene Patalan as treasurer, and Andy Thomas as secretary. But Christine Stead was elected vice-president by a 5-2 vote over Susan Baskett, who had previously held the position. Baskett and trustee Simone Lightfoot dissented. The four officers took their oaths of office, and Mexicotte appointed Lightfoot as board parliamentarian.

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen gave the board a summary of the state revenue consensus conference held last week, including his assessment that nothing he heard indicated that the district’s per-pupil funding would increase, despite a surplus in the state School Aid Fund.

Allen’s report prompted the board to direct AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and her staff to explore taking legal action against the state for misapplying School Aid Fund revenue.

Also at the meeting, the board reviewed and made some minor adjustments to its internal administration, including: a list of designated board associations; representation on administrative committees; time limits; meeting schedule; voting order; communication procedures; and committee structure.

Receiving an initial discussion by the board was the length of board terms,  as new state law governing board of education elections takes effect.  The board also gave initial discussion to the possibility of using BoardDocs, an electronic system of board document management, to organize board informational materials. Both of those items will return to the board for more discussion and a decision at the next regular board meeting. [Full Story]

Possible 4-Party Transit Amendments

With her regular constituent update sent by email on Jan. 22, 2012, Ward 1 Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere has included a marked-up version of the four-party transit agreement reflecting possible amendments that could be made to that document during the council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting. [.pdf of potential amendments to four-party transit agreement]

The four-party agreement – between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – will be considered by the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 23 for the second time, after the council postponed its consideration at its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting. A public hearing on the agreement is also scheduled for Jan. 23. There’s … [Full Story]

S. Main Street

Near Espresso Royale: Huge mountain of snow all piled up in space for handicapped parking – bet it won’t melt until March.

AATA in Transition, Briefed on State’s Plans

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 19, 2012): The AATA board’s meeting consisted of pro forma, ordinary business set against a backdrop of several transitions.

Rich Robben University of Michigan Ann Arbor Transportation Authority

Rich Robben's last meeting as an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member was Jan. 19, 2012. (Photos by the writer.)

The board itself is in transition – Thursday was Rich Robben’s last meeting as an AATA board member. And the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, attended his first meeting since his nomination was confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council on Dec. 19, 2011. He replaces Sue McCormick on the board.

The AATA as an organization is also possibly in transition, as it seeks to establish a new, countywide governance structure under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. To provide a framework for that move, AATA is asking three other entities – the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – to ratify an agreement with the AATA. The Ann Arbor city council postponed action on that agreement at its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting, but is expected to take action on Jan. 23. A public hearing on the four-party agreement is scheduled for that council meeting as well. CEO Michael Ford reported that the text of the four-party agreement is currently being revised, to promote clarity.

And as the AATA works on a possible move to countywide governance of public transit in Washtenaw County, Michigan’s state legislature may also act to establish a regional transit authority (RTA) for southeast Michigan that would add Washtenaw to Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties.

The AATA board got a briefing on possible upcoming RTA legislation from Dusty Fancher, a consultant for the Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA). Fancher, who’s employed by Midwest Strategy Group, stressed that the RTA legislation – for which no details have yet been released publicly – comes in the context of a larger transportation infrastructure agenda being pushed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. That larger agenda includes a focus on funding for roads.

Like the move to a local countywide governance, the funding for an RTA would probably include a request to voters for additional taxes. If the state’s RTA legislation were passed before the November 2012 election – and if a decision also were made to place a ballot request to Washtenaw County voters to fund more transportation within the county – that would potentially result in two transportation tax initiatives in the same election.

How likely is it that the state’s RTA legislation would be passed before the November 2012 election? Fancher said that if nothing were passed by March 2012, she’d bet money that nothing would happen before November. Also at the AATA board meeting, Clark Harder, executive director of the MPTA, indicated that it’s important to understand that Snyder does not currently have the votes within his own Republican Party to push the RTA package forward.

Against that backdrop of transition and many unknowns, the AATA went about some regular business with quantifiable, known facts. The board authorized the purchase of up to 25 vans to provide van pool service. The board also authorized its capital grant program for the next five years, which allows for an additional $1.5 million of federal and state grant money to go towards the reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center.

The board also heard its usual range of public commentary and reports from committees. [Full Story]

Former Judge Nelson to Fill in for Wheeler

The 22nd circuit court of Washtenaw County has announced that retired judge Charles Nelson will be serving as a full-time visiting judge to absorb the docket of judge Nancy Wheeler, who has gone on extended medical leave. Her term as judge does not expire until January 2015. The news was posted on the court’s website and distributed via email by the Washtenaw County Bar Association on the morning of Friday, Jan. 20.

Other judges will manage Wheeler’s docket for the week of Jan. 23, 2012. However, beginning Jan. 30, Nelson will assume Wheeler’s docket on a full-time visiting judge basis. It appears that there will be no interruption to service by the court. Nelson retired in 2006 from the Jackson … [Full Story]

Column: Finally, a Real Rivalry

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State in football is one of the best in the country. But it obscures the fact that, in just about every other sport, Michigan’s main rival is Michigan State.

In men’s basketball, there’s no team either school would rather beat than the other. The problem is, for a rivalry to really catch on, both sides need to be at the top of their game. Think of Bo versus Woody, Borg-McEnroe and, of course, Ali-Frazier, which required three death-defying fights just to determine that one of them might have been slightly better than the other.

The Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry, in contrast, usually consists of at least one lightweight. When Michigan got to the NCAA final in 1976, Michigan State had not been to the tournament in 17 years.

When Michigan State won the NCAA title in 1979, Michigan finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten.

When Michigan won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1985 and ‘86, State wasn’t close. And when State rolled up four straight Big Ten titles under Tom Izzo, Michigan was headed for probation, and yet another coach.

Around that time, Izzo told me there was no reason, given the basketball talent in this state, that this rivalry could not be every bit as good as Duke and North Carolina. But for more than a decade, it was anything but. Izzo owned Michigan, winning 18 of 21 games through 2010.

But Michigan managed to sweep State last year for the first time in 13 years. And on Tuesday night, for only the fifth time in the rivalry’s long history, Michigan and Michigan State both entered their contest ranked in the top 20.

This was it. The rivalry finally looked like a rivalry. [Full Story]

618 S. Main Project Moves to City Council

The site plan and development agreement for 618 S. Main – a major new residential project in downtown Ann Arbor – received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting. The project now will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

The planned project is located at the site of the former Fox Tent & Awning building, north of Mosley between Main and Ashley. It borders properties in the Old West Side historic district, but is not in the district itself. The proposal calls for demolishing two existing structures and erecting a 7-story, 153,133-square-foot apartment building with 190 units for 231 bedrooms.

The building would contain 70 studio apartments, 70 one-bedroom units, 42 … [Full Story]

More Money for Blake in New AATA Capital Plan

At its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized its capital and categorical grant program for 2012-2016. [.pdf of capital and categorical grant program] To continue receiving federal and state funding, it’s required that the AATA develop such an annual plan for use of federal and state funds.

The board had authorized a revised version of its 2011-2015 plan last year on Aug. 24, 2011. That revision was made in order to accommodate three projects: (1) the Blake Transit Center (BTC) reconstruction in downtown Ann Arbor, (2) the bus storage facility expansion, and (3) the bus maintenance facility upgrade.

This year’s program also includes those projects. The resolution adopted by the board at its Jan. 19 meeting includes an additional use of grant funding of up to $1.5 million – $1.2 million in federal formula funds and $0.3 million in state funds – for the planned reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor BTC. That brings the total BTC project budget from the previously reported $5.5 million to as much as $7 million.

The AATA does not think that it will be possible to construct the center’s design for $5.5 million, but the board is not necessarily committed to spending the entire $7 million. Some of the additional cost involves technology for informational displays. The resolution approved by the board on Jan. 19 sets that additional funding as the final maximum amount for the planned BTC reconstruction.

According to the resolution, the final cost estimates for the planned BTC reconstruction are due by March 2012. For a more detailed description of the planned new center – which will be reconstructed on the opposite end of the same parcel where the current center sits – see “AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice.”

Also at the Jan. 19 meeting, the board authorized its CEO, Michael Ford, to submit applications, certifications and assurances to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), when the AATA asks for funding from that agency. The FTA requires the AATA to have passed such a resolution. The board’s resolution also authorized the CEO to execute contracts with the FTA on behalf of the AATA.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA Board Bids Farewell to Robben

At its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board bid farewell to board member Rich Robben, who had submitted his resignation in November 2011, but had agreed to serve through January 2012 to allow some time to find a replacement.

Robben’s departure was early – his four-year term had started last year. In his resignation letter sent to mayor John Hieftje, Robben wrote, “… other factors have risen that will interfere with my time commitment to this endeavor.” Appointments to the AATA board are made through mayoral nomination, and confirmation by the city council.

Robben received the traditional parting gift for departing board members – a mailbox marked up to resemble an AATA bus. Colleagues on the board … [Full Story]

AATA OKs Vehicles for Vanpool Service

At its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized the purchase of seven Dodge Caravans (model year 2012) for $21,272 each (total = $148,904) with an option to purchase up to a total of 25 vans (total = $531,800). The vans will be used to provide vanpool services. Vanpools are arrangements in which a vehicle is provided through the service, but is driven by one of the members of the pool.

At its Sept. 15, 2011 meeting, the board authorized a contract with VPSI Inc. for vanpool services that is not to exceed $6,600 for each AATA owned/managed van. Riders pay for operational costs. Currently, the MichiVan program, operated by VPSI, provides such a service in the Ann Arbor area. However, through fiscal year 2012 MichiVan will only continue to provide vanpool service for existing vanpools in the Ann Arbor area. It is AATA’s intention to provide service for any additional vanpools that people might wish to create.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]