The Chronicle arrived 20 minutes late to the AATA board meeting held Wednesday. But at 6:50 p.m. the board was already well into the discussion of its single agenda item listed under new business, which had been predicted on the published agenda to begin an hour later. The item was a resolution authorizing additional funding for a north-south connector study. After approving an increase in their contribution to the budget for the connector study from $100,000 to $160,000 (the total budget for the project increased from $250,000 to $640,000), the board heard from the public, and a few minutes later the meeting was adjourned.
So what happened?
Piecing together remarks made by speakers during public comment time, as well as conversation with AATA community relations manager Mary Stasiak and board chair David Nacht after the meeting, plus a close review of notes from the Sept. 17 board meeting, what happened was this: the new, more efficient monthly AATA board meeting – a meeting that in the future could be reduced to a bi-monthly schedule, if the board heeds what seems to be the urging of board member Sue McCormick, who is the public services area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor.
During public speaking time, Jim Mogensen addressed the practice that the board has adopted with its new committee structure to do more of its work at the committee level and to receive the reports of its committees only in written form. Said Mogensen, “It is important that a robust communication effort be made,” to ensure that the public be made aware of the scheduling and content of the meetings in advance. He was not recommending a particular solution, he said, but stressed that this robust effort to inform the public of meeting times, places, and content was an essential complement to the commitment that the board had expressed to make minutes from committee meetings available on its website. [After the meeting, Stasiak confirmed that the evening's agenda items to receive reports from the Local Advisory Council, the Planning and Development Committee, and the Performance Monitoring and External Relations Committee had been dramatically shortened from the roughly half hour estimated on the agenda for them, because they had been received in written form.]
Also during public speaking time, Carolyn Grawi pointed out that if there was no discussion of committees’ work at the board meetings, then the public’s opportunity to address the board when it mattered – namely, before the board voted – was further “sidelined.” As a partial remedy she called on the board, as she had at the Sept. 17 meeting, to schedule public speaking at a time during the meeting before the board voted on various resolutions, instead of at the end, after decisions had been made.
At the same meeting on Sept. 17, Grawi had urged the board to go beyond the requirements of the open meetings act to post changes in meeting times and the scheduling of special meetings by reaching out to inform interested parties. [The AATA board held a special meeting on Oct. 28 between the last regularly scheduled meeting and this one, to pass a resolution committing the AATA to take a leadership role in the WALLY project. If Vivienne Armentrout had not filed a Stopped. Watched. item on that meeting, it would have gone unnoticed by The Chronicle until arrival of AATA's press release on the matter.]
While accessibility to the board’s actions and deliberations were of great concern to Grawi, she was also clearly concerned about continued accessibility to the transportation services offered by the AATA by all members of the community (independent of age, physical mobility, etc.), in the context of the WALLY project. She said she regretted that one board member was absent who had indicated a lack of commitment to accessibility as the WALLY project moved forward, because she particularly wanted him to hear that it was essential that the transportation service that we already do have not be lost as AATA expanded to a better regional system. She said the recent AARP designation of Ann Arbor as a top community to live in was partly due to the good transportation system and not, she joked, a function of our weather.
Board chair David Nacht responded to Grawi’s concerns about accessibility to service by saying the AATA had a commitment to meeting not just the letter of ADA requirements, but also the spirit, and would continue to do so as long as he was chair.
Leading off public speaking time had been LuAnne Bullington, who asked the board to consider adding Election Day to those occasions on which riding the bus is free.
The Chronicle arrived and settled in as board member Sue McCormick was asking what kind of information would be in the report at the end of the north-south connector study. Chris White, manager of service development, said that the report delivered at the end of the 18-month study would include an analysis and recommendations of the feasibility of various high-capacity transit options along the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors. High-capacity transit translates in layman’s terms into monorail, streetcars, or bus rapid transit.
The geographic focus of the north-south connector study includes primarily the Plymouth corridor, but secondarily includes State Street. In response to a board question about whether the scope went as far south as Briarwood, a nod from city of Ann Arbor transportation manager Eli Cooper, who was in the audience, confirmed that it did. White also clarified that the Plymouth corridor was not constrained to Plymouth Road per se, but rather included “a much wider swath that takes in north campus.”
White said that of the three firms who submitted bids, the contract had been awarded to URS Corporation and that Rick Nau would be project manager, while stressing that there would be a large team involved.
Asked by McCormick for milestones on the 18-month study, White said that URS would be considering the whole universe of possibilities for the corridor, and would likely be able to fairly quickly eliminate any options that had “fatal flaws.” Some options, he said, might require too high a trip density to be realistic, and they could be eliminated from subsequent investigation.
Board member Rich Robben noted that the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation plan, which is currently in the final stages of getting updated, highlights the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors as candidates for “signature service,” confirmed with White that this connector amounted to “signature service” and asked about the possibility in the future of signature connector service in the east-west direction. White said that east-west connectivity would require greater coordination with the proposed commuter rail in those two directions.
After the meeting White clarified that the north-south connector in Ann Arbor and WALLY (commuter rail north between Ann Arbor and Howell) were not contingent on each other. Passengers on WALLY, who would arrive at Barton Road and still need to complete their journey into Ann Arbor, could be serviced by meeting the train with five buses on three routes. It wouldn’t be essential to have a north-south connector in place for WALLY to work. Similarly, the north-south connector does not rely in concept on the existence of WALLY. The north-south connector is expected to help move people who are already traveling between central Ann Arbor and UM north campus.
The three other partners with the AATA on the north-south connector study are the city of Ann Arbor, the DDA and UM. Each of their contributions went from $50,000 to $160,000 to match the level of the AATA contribution for a total project budget of $640,000.
[Editor's note: Mary Stasiak has indicated to The Chronicle that she'll provide board committee meeting times, dates and locations to facilitate first-person reporting on those committee meetings, to the extent that The Chronicle has resources available to attend them.]
Present: David Nacht (chair), Paul Ajegba, Charles Griffith, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben
Absent: Jesse Bernstein, Ted Annis
Next meeting: Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave.