Stories indexed with the term ‘commuter rail’

First & William

Train engine and one double-decker passenger rail car are positioned near the parking lot at First & William for public tours, as part of Friday’s Green Fair. According to a city press release, the train cars are former Metra bi-level gallery cars that were refurbished by the Great Lakes Central Railroad. This type of passenger car could serve on a commuter line between Ann Arbor and Detroit or between Ann Arbor and Howell, according to the city. [photo] [photo]

North-South Rail Planning Gets Boost

A somewhat unexpected $640,000 federal grant to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Michigan Dept. of Transportation will allow continued planning and study for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project. The grant was announced on Aug. 6, 2012 and was awarded under the Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) Program. AATA had applied for the grant last November, but did not have high expectations, given the competitive nature of the grants.

Taking advantage of the grant award, as well as other funds that the AATA had allocated at its June 21, 2012 for such work, the AATA board voted at its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting to award a $105,200 contract to SmithGroup JJR for “station location and design services” in connection with the WALLY … [Full Story]

AATA OKs North-South Rail Planning Costs

At its June 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized the funds for north-south commuter rail planning that were already part of its approved fiscal year 2012 budget, which runs through Sept. 30, 2012. The total in the line item for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) is $230,000, of which $45,000 are AATA funds.

Other entities that have contributed money to the WALLY project include: Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority ($50,000); Washtenaw County ($50,000); city of Howell DDA ($37,000); and a federal grant ($48,000). The planned expenditures are for station design work and for other consulting work on railroad operations and liability issues.

Ordinarily, the expenditure of funds from the budget would not necessarily need an explicit board authorization. … [Full Story]

AATA on WALLY Rail: Forward with Caution

At its Sept. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board passed a resolution that expresses general support for the idea of continuing to work with surrounding communities to move forward with the Washtenaw and Livingston Line (WALLY) project. WALLY would provide commuter rail service on a 26-mile route between Ann Arbor and Howell. Relevant entities identified in the resolution include the state of Michigan, Livingston County, the city of Howell and the Ann Arbor Railroad.

However, the one “resolved” clause requires that funds allocated for WALLY in the 2012 budget ($50,000) cannot be spent, except with the explicit consent of the AATA board.

At the meeting, the board received a status report on the WALLY project from Michael Benham, a special assistant for strategic planning at AATA. Benham was hired in 2009 to handle the WALLY project. Since then, he’s become responsible for directing the development of the countywide transit master plan, which the AATA has developed over the course of the last year.

Highlights from Benham’s report included the fact that starting in 2008, AATA has spent a total of $102,853 on the WALLY project, while other partners have spent a total of $225,000. That money has been spent primarily on a study and public education efforts. As a part of the AATA FY 2012 budget, the AATA has included another $50,000 for the project, which requires the explicit approval of the board before it is spent. That money would be put towards station design.

Benham’s report identifies $16 million already invested by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation in track improvements, with $19 million worth of work still needed. Another $6 million in optional capital improvements is also identified.

Benham’s report projects that after the necessary capital improvements are completed to operate the commuter service, annual operating costs would amount to $5.4 million. Fares would be expected to cover $2.1 million of that, with another $1.4 million coming from the state’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund. That would leave another $1.9 million of local funding still to be identified.

[.pdf of WALLY status report (to reduce file size, does not include scans of letters of support)]

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

In the Archives: Huckleberries and Trains

Editor’s note: As discussion of major investments in commuter rail service continues in the Ann Arbor region, Laura Bien’s local history column this week takes a look back to efforts more than a century ago to establish rail connections in the region. Does southeastern Michigan have the wherewithal to enhance existing connections and establish new ones? Or is all that just a huckleberry above our persimmon?

railroad map

This 1895 plat map shows the Huckleberry curving from northern Ypsilanti towards Washtenaw Avenue. (Images link to higher resolution files.)

By the 1980s, the century-old train tracks had been torn up. Now occupying the former roadbed are new Eastern Michgan University buildings, the Washtenaw Avenue Kmart, the abandoned Carpenter Road mini-golf park just south of Thrifty Florist, and Pittsfield Township homes. But only a few years earlier, a sleepy southbound rail line with only one slow train rumbling by a day, was an ideal route for rural nature walks, south of the rail crossing on Washtenaw just east of Golfside.

Onetime Ypsilanti Press linotyper and history columnist Milton Barnes remembered. Barnes was blind. Yet in an early-1980s column for the Press, he helped others visualize a summer ramble.

“Strolling-just a-strolling, down these tracks in late August,” Barnes wrote, “we found a bed of wild strawberries, just a few of them, but as sweet as can be. The spring crop of polliwogs had grown into lively green frogs. There was a bit of water in the ditches along the tracks, with buttercups and cowslips … When we stroll along, and hop from tie to tie, every cow, lamb, dog, pig, and rooster watches. So do the farmers from their back doors, and some wave a cheery ‘How be ye?’ greeting.” [Full Story]

Transit Planning Forum: Saline Edition

Editor’s note: Since July 2010, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has been developing a transit master plan (TMP) for transit service throughout Washtenaw County. Countywide service would represent an expansion of the service it currently offers in Ann Arbor, which is supported by a transit millage. The AATA also offers limited service in the rest of the county through purchase of service agreements (POS) with three of the county’s townships and the city of Ypsilanti. In November 2010, Ypsilanti voters passed a millage to fund its POS agreement with the AATA.

Saline City Hall, Harris Street

The view southward on Harris Street in Saline. Saline city hall, where the Feb. 8, 2011 transit master planning forum was held, sits to the left of the frame. (Photo by the writer.)

A second public engagement phase of the countywide planning exercise is now wrapping up, with 20 community forums held through the month of February at locations across the county. The final four of those forums will take place next week. Coverage of the forum hosted in the Saline area is provided by Chronicle intern and Saline resident Hayley Byrnes.

On Feb. 8, at Saline city hall, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority sponsored the ninth of 20 community forums being held from the end of January through February. Every forum is open to all Washtenaw County residents, but they’re being held at locations across the county – like Saline – to make it easier for people to attend.

The goal of a previous round of 20 public forums, held last year, was to get participants to brainstorm about countywide transit. But the current set of forums is all about presenting participants with three specific scenarios that have been developed so far, based in part on those first 20 meetings. The AATA is calling these three scenarios: Lifeline Plus, Accessible County and Smart Growth. From those three scenarios, a preferred scenario will be developed. An AATA board consensus on that scenario is expected in March, with board action on adoption of a countywide transit plan expected in April.

Michael Benham, who’s coordinating the project for the AATA, and Juliet Edmonson, a consultant with Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), hosted the Saline forum. Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, made an appearance in video form. For county residents who cannot attend any of the forums, the AATA is also seeking feedback on the three scenarios using an online survey. [Full Story]

AATA Gets Its Fill of Fuller Road Station

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 21, 2010): On Wednesday, Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, gave the AATA board an update on Phase One of Fuller Road Station – a city-university collaboration to build a combined parking structure, bus station and bicycle amenity south of Fuller Road, abutting the University of Michigan medical campus. The project envisions eventual integration of a train station for east-west commuter rail, if service along the Detroit-Ann Arbor corridor can be established.

Eli Cooper Ann Arbor Transportation Manager

Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor's transportation program manager, sets up his visual aids for the Fuller Road Station. (Photos by the writer.)

Confronted with skepticism from board member David Nacht, who expressed his doubts that the rail service would ever become a reality, Cooper urged a “glass as half full” view of the project. Cooper was buoyed in part by a recent phone call he’d received from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation about another round of funding that the Federal Railroad Administration will be making available.

AATA board member Sue McCormick also gave some shape to the city’s funding strategy for its share of the Fuller Road Station project: Once the environmental impact study is completed, that will make it possible for the local transit agency – in this case, the AATA – to apply for federal funds for the project. That’s consistent with the message thus far from city officials, who have said that whatever the funding strategy will be, it won’t involve city general fund money.

In its main business items of the meeting, the board approved a contract worth $399,805.32 with a consultant, Steer Davies Gleave, to head up the formulation of a transportation master plan (TMP), which will underpin the AATA’s effort to expand its service countywide. The board also approved an allocation of $350,000 for a period ending March 31, 2012, that will allow the AATA to task one of three public relations firms for work, depending on the nature of the project: The Rossman Group, Ilium Associates, and re:group.

Both resolutions passed, with dissent from the board’s treasurer, Ted Annis.

The board made a decision at its March board meeting to change its meeting time and location to Thursdays at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. Although it was discussed then that the new time and location would begin in two months, board discussion on Wednesday suggested that the target for changing the new time is now August 2010. [Full Story]

Transit Forum Critiques Fuller Road Station

Chris Leinberger was blunt in his assessment of the proposed Fuller Road Station: If the parking structure is built as proposed, in 20 years it will be torn down.

Fuller Road parking lot

The city-owned Fuller Road parking lot, site of the proposed Fuller Road Station. To the south of the lot is the University of Michigan medical complex. (Photos by the writer.)

Speaking at a forum on transit-oriented development, Leinberger – a University of Michigan professor of practice in urban planning – said current plans for the joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project do a good job of incorporating different kinds of transit, from bikes and buses to perhaps, eventually, commuter rail.

But Leinberger criticized the project for taking some of Ann Arbor’s most valuable land and turning it into something that won’t generate revenue for the city. He told Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, that “whoever’s in your position 20 years from now will tear it down.”

Monday’s forum, held at the UM Art & Architecture building on north campus, was organized by members of the WALLY Coalition and the 208 Group, among others, to focus on local transit-oriented development efforts. Moderated by local developer Peter Allen, the event included presentations by Cooper, Richard Murphy of the city of Ypsilanti and Shea Charles, Howell’s city manager. [Full Story]

Fleshing Out Fuller Road Station

At left: Architect John Mouat, a member of the Fuller Road Station design team, talks with Eli Cooper, the city's transportation manager, before the start of the Feb. 10 citizen participation forum. Moaut is a partner in the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat. (Photos by the writer.)

At left: Architect John Mouat, a member of the Fuller Road Station design team, talks with Eli Cooper, the city's transportation program manager, before the start of the Feb. 10 citizen participation forum. Mouat is a partner in the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat. (Photos by the writer.)

For Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, a project like the proposed Fuller Road Station happens “once in a lifetime” – an opportunity for the city, he says, to take a vision and make it reality in a fairly short time.

What it will take to reach that reality was the topic of a Feb. 10 public meeting on the Fuller Road Station, a joint University of Michigan/city of Ann Arbor project. Its first phase entails a parking structure with about 1,000 spaces – nearly 80% of them earmarked for UM use.

But much of the presentation by city staff and members of the design team focused on the broader goals for that site, which they hope will eventually include a train station for commuter rail. [Full Story]

City Seeks Feedback on Transit Center

At Tuesdays meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, Eli Cooper shows a conceptual design for a proposed transit center on Fuller Road

At Tuesday's meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, Eli Cooper shows the original conceptual design for a proposed transit center on Fuller Road. A newer version (see below) includes two buildings and a possible roundabout at Fuller and Maiden Lane. (Photo by the writer.)

Tim Berla of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission has a suggestion to liven up the proposed Fuller Road transit center: Add a pub. You can bet that people who use the nearby city athletic fields would grab a post-game beer there, he told Eli Cooper at Tuesday’s PAC meeting.

Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, was soliciting feedback from PAC members and giving them an update on the project known as FITS – the Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station. FITS is  a joint venture by the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor that would include 900 parking spaces in a multi-level structure.

Cooper made clear that the two partners are hoping to get more input from the general public, too. To that end, on Thursday, Sept. 17, the city will host two public forums at city hall, from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. After incorporating feedback from a variety of stakeholders, Cooper said the city hoped to present the facility’s conceptual design for approval at the city council’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s meeting several PAC commissioners had questions about the project, including a query about the designation of the city-owned land being used: In the city’s master plan, it’s designated as parkland – which didn’t originally mean a place to park cars. For zoning purposes, however, parkland is under the broader designation of “public land” – which can include transportation uses. [Full Story]

Track Straightening Work on Ann Arbor Railroad

Let's get this straight: this is the Ann Arbor Railroad

Let's get this straight. Ann Arbor Railroad track gets measured out for straightening work next week.

“Left, a skosh!” the guy behind the transit radioed his colleagues about a half mile away along the rails. He was sighting northward up the track from where it crosses Traver Road up to Barton Drive. The guys up the track were almost as invisible to the naked eye in real life as they are in The Chronicle’s photo accompanying this story.

The late morning temperatures were in the low 70s, but without a cloud in the sky, … [Full Story]