Budget, Bridge: Part II

Ann Arbor council discusses transportation issues

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting, Part II (May 4, 2009): This article continues coverage begun here.

Transportation: Connector Study

Before council was a study for a proposed north-south connector along the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors. Four different entities are partnering on the feasibility study: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the city of Ann Arbor. The study proposal has been in the works since at least the fall of 2008. Discussion over the months among the various partners has centered around total cost and the share to be paid by each partner.

The initial proposal, based on a cost estimate by city staff of $250,000, had the AATA paying $100,000 and the other three partners equal $50,000 shares.When the $250,000 estimate proved dramatically low upon sending the proposal out to bid, a revised proposal with a total cost of $640,000 called for the four partners to share equally in $160,000 shares. The DDA’s discussions of the issue reflected the view that the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor and the AATA were essentially all the same source – Ann Arbor taxpayers – so should not be considered separate partners in the financial equation. Further, the primary beneficiary was seen to be UM, for connecting its north campus area with its central campus.

The proposal before council on Monday night specified the following financial arrangement: city of Ann Arbor, $80,000; AATA, $320,000; UM, $160,000; DDA, $80,000.

At council’s Monday meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who also serves on the DDA board, suggested a postponement until the DDA had a chance to vote on the new proposal.

Outcome: Postponed.

Transportation: Plan Update

Before council was a resolution to adopt the city’s transportation plan update.

Jim Mogensen: At the public hearing on the transportation plan update, Mogensen noted that he was the only member to weigh in at the planning commission’s public hearing on the transportation plan update. He said that wasn’t too surprising, but also said that transportation is a big issue in Ann Arbor. Every controversy in Ann Arbor has something to do with the word “park,” he said: parking structure, parking meters, Parke-Davis. [Parke-Davis was acquired by Warner-Lambert in 1970, which in turn was bought by Pfizer in 2000.] Mogensen said that the transportation plan update was basically saying that the population in Ann Arbor wasn’t going to increase, but there were a number of employment generators which were going to need ways to bring workers into the city. The plan talks about connectors from Canton, and Chelsea and Ypsilanti Township. Somebody has to pay for it, he said. As an example, he asked council to look at their DS-7 agenda item, which had to do with the funding strategy for a north-south connector study. He noted that the University of Michigan is among the entities involved [UM, AATA, DDA, city of Ann Arbor], adding that UM doesn’t “contribute,” but rather “invests in an outcome.” He pointed out that when UM invested in the M-Ride program [sponsoring fares for UM affiliates so that they board buses simply by displaying their M-Cards] it became harder and harder for other people to use the bus. For the route that he uses along Plymouth, Mogensen said, he can’t use the bus unless he modifies his travel schedule around the heavier commuting times. The people who are going to pay for the enhanced transit, he said, would not be the people in the townships or the outlying areas, but rather the taxpayers in the urban areas.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge said he supported the city’s planning for integrated county regional transportation plan, providing connectors to townships within the county and throughout the region. He noted, however, that despite the fact that transportation planning has been going on for decades, there’s been a dearth of issues on the ballot. No amount of money will create a system, he said, unless there’s a coordinated region-wide plan. To do that, he said, we needed an elected transportation authority, not an appointed one. [The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board is appointed by the mayor of the city of Ann Arbor.]

LuAnne Bullington: She identified herself as a Ward 3 resident and a member of the local advisory committee of the AATA. Bullington spoke to the issue of gaps in the sidewalk system. Ann Arbor has great bike paths, she said, but where we’re falling down is in sidewalk gaps. Where Ferdon crosses into Burns Park, she said there are whole blocks without a sidewalk. Students at Pattengill Elementary School and Tappen Middle School can’t walk to school, she said, even though they’re in the heart of the city. She said she would like to see part of the plan update include a non-motorized plan. She noted that it’s not easy for a wheelchair to cross a grassy stretch where there’s no sidewalks. She suggested that when Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) basement flooded, the city installed sump pumps for people, and that we might take a similar approach to sidewalks.

Council Deliberations on the Transportation Plan Update: Council deliberations centered around the revisions suggested by planning commission and the comments on the plan by the city’s environmental commission. The planning commission’s recommendation, which included their amendments, was attached to the council agenda. The environmental commission’s report, however, was not. Councilmember Margie Teall indicated that the environmental commission’s commentary should have been included as an H-Item (in the city clerk’s report of communications) so she had emailed it to councilmembers.

[Editorial Aside: There's no internet access provided to the public in council chambers. Access to the internet in chambers can be achieved by using a wireless card (a USB device that affords access via a cell phone carrier like AT&T or Verizon). There's a single power outlet for any members of the media or public who'd like to use a laptop computer to document or follow council proceedings. The result is that access to the environmental commission's commentary, which council had before it and was discussing, was not easily accessible to members of the public and the media who attended the meeting.]

The planning commission’s commentary is here. The environmental commission’s commentary is here. At issue was whether the environmental commission’s commentary was reflected in the plan and what the implications were for sending the transportation plan update back to planning commission for incorporation of those comments.

There was a fair amount of discussion about possibly postponing the adoption of the plan, which ultimately did not lead to postponement.

Salient in transportation program manager Eli Cooper’s description of the transportation plan was the process by which SEMCOG – the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments – dis-aggregates regional estimates of growth in jobs and population. The initial estimates by SEMCOG showed little growth in jobs or population for the Ann Arbor area. Local municipalities have the opportunity to “appeal” SEMCOG’s analysis, which the city of Ann Arbor did. The successful case was made to SEMCOG that health care and higher education would be tremendous growth areas in the economy, areas that would have an impact on Ann Arbor jobs (through the University of Michigan). As a consequence, the SEMCOG projections from 2005 to 2035 show job growth of 18,000. Cooper said that a corresponding case made to SEMCOG for population growth was not successful.

Outcome: The transportation plan was adopted unanimously.

Transportation: East Stadium Bridge

Arnold Goetzke: Speaking during public commentary, Goetzke said that after he’d left the previous council meeting at which he spoke on the East Stadium bridge, he’d been provided with a study talking about why the bridge was needed and analyzing the no-bridge option. He said that the hypothetical costs for the no-bridge option were questionable. As one example, he cited $7.4 million of present net worth for adding a stoplight at Stadium Boulevard [calculated over the 75-year study period based on accidents at a signalized intersection]. He noted that there were potentially stoplights that could eliminated: Stimpson & State; Industrial & Stimpson; Stadium & Industrial. A fourth stoplight, at Granger & Packard, also had some potential to be eliminated if an at-grade crossing were established at Stadium & State, where there’s now a bridge. He concluded that the study had done a good job focusing on the negative. Another example he cited was the $14.8 million cost because of the extra fuel consumption while vehicles idled at the State & Stadium intersection. Motorists cut through the Burns Park area at Golden and Park, where there are two one-way streets, he said, which could be eliminated. There would be gas savings, he said, by not having to take a left onto Stimpson, and a left onto Industrial, and a left onto Stadium, when motorists get onto Stadium Boulevard from State Street. Goetzke mentioned a website he would be creating to lay out further details of the problems with the study and its conclusion against a no-bridge option.

Before council was a resolution to approve submission of an application under the State of Michigan Local Bridge Program. City engineer Michael Nearing was on hand Monday night to provide an update on the status of the bridge, which continues to be monitored. While the bridge has stabilized, he said, its poor condition [2 on a 100-point scale] could mean that it could require closure with very little notice.  The city is developing traffic rerouting plans for that eventuality, which will also have to be put into place when reconstruction begins.

Outcome: The resolution to ask for funding was approved.

Transportation and Planning: Airport Runway

Andrew McGill: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, McGill said he was there to ensure that council did not make a misinformed vote to extend the primary runway at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. He was there, he said, representing several hundred well-organized citizens who were concerned about the safety of such an extension. McGill stated that he loved the airport and, in fact, learned to fly there. He said he did not believe that council said to themselves before the meeting, “How can I make some lousy decisions tonight.” [Later during council communications, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) would clarify that there would be no vote on the airport that night or anytime soon.] In that light, McGill said that he and his colleagues would begin appearing to make clear how council had been mislead by airport authorities. Based on material they’d obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, he continued, council would become conviced that the current proposal to extend the runway is dangerous, deficient and would have “precarious budgetary implications” because of the airport’s declining use. The environmental assessment began today [May 4, 2009], he said, and after the current budgetary issues are resolved they’d be hapy to meet with council. He noted that similar proposals have been rejected on four attempts over the last 30 years. Free federal dollars today, he warned, carried with them the unspoken pricetag of committment to operate the airport for 20 years, regardless of its worth.

Planning: R4C Moratorium

Tom Whitaker: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Whitaker introduced himself as the president of Germantown Neighborhood Association. He began by stating: “Ann Arbor’s zoning ordinance is a mess.” He identified R4C districts as a particular concern. He described his role and that of other members of the association as “citizen zoning administrators,” who had identified places in the ordinance where developers had exploited the code. There are missing definitions for “dormer,” “roof,” “kitchen” and “common facilities.” He also called attention to definitions that exist but contradict each other. As an example, he gave “required setback” versus “required open space.” He concluded by calling for a moratorium on construction in R4C zoning districts until the problems with the zoning ordinance could be addressed.

[Subsequent to Monday's council meeting, Whitaker has circulated an email identifying a missed point in the due process for the site plan review of a recent project brought "by right" under R4C zoning recommended by planning commission: City Place. The requirement identified by Whitaker that was missed involves the necessity of providing site plans in a location at city hall that is accessible to the public 24/7 for a full week in advance of a plan's review by planning commission or council. In the current configuration of the Larcom Building – changed due to construction – the table with the drawings for site plans is located just to the left of the Ann Street entrance.]

Thomas Partridge: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Partridge introduced himself as a Democrat of Scio Township and member of the local advisory committee to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He addressed council on the subject on the need for a master plan for Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to end discrimination in the area of housing, healthcare, transportation, and education. He contended there isn’t affordable public or private transportation, housing, healthcare, or education in the city or the region. Even though the county is blessed with two of the most prominent, prestigious universities in the state [University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University], he said that the region was behind the times in requesting funding to provide for tuition and living expenses on campus. He called on the council to carry out the Michigan Promise for an undergraduate or graduate degree or a profession degree for anyone who was willing to work for it. He called on council to move from the status quo to work on progressive reforms.

Resolution: New Liquor Code

For several months now, on most occasions when a liquor license award or transfer has come before council, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) has indicated that a complete overhaul of the city’s liquor code would be forthcoming. On Monday night it came forth.

The idea is to repeal the entire old chapter on liquor in the city code and replace it with a new one. Rapundalo described the key elements of the new code as providing for an annual review process, clarifying standards for application, and giving the liquor committee greater ability to track on- and off-premises violations.

Outcome: The new code passed unanimously on its first reading. All ordinance changes require two readings before council.

Present: Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje

Next Council Meeting: Monday, May 18, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By John Kidle
    May 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    Kudos to Arnold Goetzke for his commentary on the no-bridge option. The city is missing a once in 50 years opportunity to open up the south side of town and improve traffic flow for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

  2. By Ostrich-in-a-Pothole
    May 10, 2009 at 9:40 pm | permalink

    A north-south connector study? An airport runway extension evaluation? Get the current roads, on which the majority of citizens and visitors drive, in decent repair first, then build new ones, not the other way ’round. And however ill-conceived from a safety standpoint, the runway serves a very, very narrow segment of residents. Put it in line behind road repair, Stadium bridge demolition, sidewalks, the Mack Pool, the Leslie Science center, pay for cops and firefighters and all of the other expenditures which actually benefit the public good!

  3. May 10, 2009 at 9:44 pm | permalink

    I’m glad to see the council coverage back. I was getting worried.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 11, 2009 at 10:13 am | permalink

    “Before council was a resolution to approve submission of an application under the State of Michigan Local Bridge Program. City engineer Michael Nearing was on hand Monday night to provide an update on the status of the bridge, which continues to be monitored. While the bridge has stabilized, he said, its poor condition [2 on a 100-point scale] could mean that it could require closure with very little notice.”

    Is the the first submission/request for funds to the Local Bridge Program? Obviously, waiting until the bridge is likely going to be shut down to deal with a replacement is great planning. At LEAST it’s a step in the right direction at long last. Why it didn’t happen sooner still needs to be addressed.

  5. By Dave Askins
    May 11, 2009 at 11:04 am | permalink

    Re: [4]

    There’s a bit of the background on the situation with the bridges in a previous Chronicle caucus report here.

    “By early March 2008, the vision for the comprehensive renovation had met with a funding setback. The Michigan Department of Transportation awarded only $760,000 for the project, though the total cost was estimated at that time at around $35 million.”

    Among the questions in my notes from Monday’s meeting is this: Was the previous award from the same program we’re applying to NOW? (I think it’s either a different program, or else the same program has been pumped full of stimulus funds) If so, why does anyone think there’ll be more money available this time around?

    I might be able to work it into the work flow around here. But that’s a question that a reader might be able to track down.

    The potential for that kind of information adding is one reason that comments are generally enabled on our articles. Sure, commenting facilitates discussion, expression of dissent, and all the rest — and the value we place on that kind of expression is reflected in the fact that we report that kind commentary when it’s delivered at public meetings — but the potential for readers to supply relevant useful information unattached to a particular opinion is, I think, somewhat underused in website comments [in general, not just here at The Chronicle].

    The formulation of a question like Alan’s, which has a research-able answer, is an informational contribution as well: “Is this the first submission/request for funds to the Local Bridge Program?”

    I’d like this thread not to become a meta discussion about the quality of comments, what comments should be allowed, what the internet means, what the role of a journalist is, whether The Chronicle is “real journalism,” etc. etc. Certainly not every comment needs to be chock full of researched information. It’s nice when readers just touch base (as in [3] … it lets us know you didn’t give up and are still reading).

    I just wanted to weigh in for readers using the comments more often to contribute useful information. There’s some of that kind of contribution already — I’m just suggesting we could tip the balance even further that direction. And I figure the best way to do that is leverage Alan’s question as a positive example that could be built on.

    For those readers who are thinking to themselves, “Dude, in the time it took you to write this long comment, maybe you could’ve just found out the answer to Alan’s question for us,” I’d say, Okay, point taken — and thus end right here.

  6. By Karen Sidney
    May 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm | permalink

    Here is what my file of documents can offer about prior funding requests

    On June 7, 2004 council requested funding under the Critical Bridge Program R-229-6-04

    On May 15, 2006, council requested funding under the Local Bridge Program R-198-5-06

    The website set up for the bridges in Sept 2007 stated the following:

    Preliminary estimates indicate that construction of all components of this portion of the project (including the replacement of both bridges) will cost approximately $31,000,000 in 2006 dollars. Funding for the project has not yet been secured. MDOT has asked the City to secure funding from other sources before MDOT will commit its funds.

    A variety of funding sources will need to be coordinated, including for example:
    MDOT Local Bridge Program funds
    City of Ann Arbor
    Storm water
    Water supply
    Street millage
    Partnerships with adjacent property owners
    Special assessments

  7. By Spencer Thomas
    May 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm | permalink

    As a resident of Golden Ave, I read Arnold Goetze’s comments about possibly eliminating traffic lights with some interest. The idea that the light at S. Industrial and Stadium could be eliminated fills me with dread. I cannot visualize getting out of my neighborhood during a high-traffic time of day without that light. Maybe with a light at State & Stadium, the east-bound traffic would have sufficient gaps, but I expect that west-bound traffic would back up and block the intersection, effectively preventing left turns off of East Park onto Stadium as well as straight-through traffic to S. Industrial.

    As a side note, the street is named East Park. It is not the easterly portion of Park St, but a short north-south street that happens to have East as the first part of its name.

  8. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 11, 2009 at 12:31 pm | permalink

    Thanks Karen. So the city has been requesting funding since 2004, those attempts have been unsuccessful, the bridge continues to get worse (21 on a scale of 100)and could be shut down if it becomes more of a danger. I guess my more direct question should have been, are we asking the same program for bridge funds that has been turned down in the past and what makes us think the funding will be approved next time?

    And thanks Dave for using my question to frame future interactions on the comments site.

  9. May 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    For what it’s worth — maybe a little bit — the bridge has gone from a 21 (on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being no bridge) to a 2.
    That’s two.
    So all the members of Council who are talking casually or formally with various folks in Washington are doing so for really important reasons. The City is asking as many possible sources for funds as it can, and the funds from Washington form a core. The list that Karen provided should give you the idea that quite a bit of the funding for bridge replacement still comes from local monies. The local monies are leveraged; that’s why MDOT wants the City to secure funding first before its funds kick in.
    2 out of 100.

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 11, 2009 at 1:58 pm | permalink

    I first typed the 2 number,saw the 21 number and thought the first was a typo so I corrected it. If 0 is no bridge I won’t ask was a 1 is.

    Sabra, so what has gone wrong since 2004 that no funding has been made available? I know about funding issues at the state and national level, but could anything have been done differently at the city level to have prevented us from being at this point? Is it wrong to be a skeptic about future funds seeing as there has been a five year lag at this point or should I just assume money is ‘on the way’? So there are just the two options–getting funding and replacing the bridges or the money not coming before we get to a ’1 or below’ point and the bridge being shut down?

    Eh, then what?

  11. By John Kidle
    May 11, 2009 at 2:38 pm | permalink

    I suppose letting the bridge go from a 2 to a 0 is one way to get to the no-bridge option—hope I’m not going under it at the time.

  12. May 12, 2009 at 9:46 am | permalink

    Accordiing to the the TF2 Task Force report issued last fall, the state (MDOT) doesn’t have enough matching funds for federal grants. Here’s what the report said:

    “Given the current state of the national economy, it is unlikely the federal government will come to
    Michigan’s transportation rescue. Even if they did, Michigan is not in a position to take advantage
    of new federal funding. This is the last year Michigan will have enough state and local matching
    funds to claim all federal transportation funding available to the state.”

    Our own Pam Byrnes chaired a committee that presented a bundle of transportation funding bills to the state House, where it passed, only to be killed in the Senate.

  13. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 12, 2009 at 11:31 am | permalink

    So, to sum up, it’s unlikely there is going to be Federal or State funding to cover the replacement anytime soon and in the near future, the bridges will be closed to vehicle traffic if conditions worsen.

    Thanks Vivienne for the info.

  14. May 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm | permalink

    I should hasten to say that I don’t know of the possible impact of federal stimulus money, since matching fund requirements may be different. We had some review of local stimulus requests earlier and I don’t remember – was the bridge on Ann Arbor’s list?

  15. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 12, 2009 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    Chronicle Stim List

    This is the list the Chronicle posted in a February article. I don’t see a bridge on this list but I do see $65 Million for the Court-Police Building.

  16. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 12, 2009 at 2:13 pm | permalink

    In reviewing the list of proposed projects I ran into this one on the county list:

    West Park Fairgrounds Drain ($6.75 Million):

    “Repair and replace 4500 feet of storm sewer from current
    36” – 72” diameter pipe, which is rusted and failing and
    installation of stormwater BMPs. Several sink holes have
    developed. Properties threatened by imminent collapse
    include main roads (Maple and Dexter), a shopping mall,
    parkland, and residential properties.”

    This sounds like the plot of a scifi movie.

  17. By Tom Whitaker
    May 13, 2009 at 12:41 am | permalink

    Wow. That is scary!

    I believe one of those sink holes is visible on Dexter Rd., near the bus stop in front of the Maple Ridge Apartments (across from Veteran’s Memorial Park, just east of Knight’s Restaurant). It’s been there, surrounded by orange snow fence for some time now.

    It would seem that old stream is trying to “daylight” itself.

  18. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 13, 2009 at 7:59 am | permalink

    I’m sure your house is perfectly safe Tom. But if it disappears at least you’ll know where it went.

  19. By Tom Whitaker
    May 13, 2009 at 11:32 am | permalink

    Yes. Straight down into the 1,4-dioxane aquifer!

    This really makes me wonder what other infrastructure catastrophes are looming in our fair city? I had no idea that this particular disaster was out there just waiting to happen.

  20. May 14, 2009 at 10:57 am | permalink

    Well, thanks for the Kudos…

    As for the Golden comment getting on to Stadium – that is essentially what everyone else in Burns Park has to do. Take the plunge onto Stadium, or go to Packard to minimize the risk. You could go to state. I don’t think that is a problem that should drive the city to spend money on a bridge, though…. Link to Ann Arbor Bridge to Nowhere website.

    Really, the “opinion” letter written by the city was pretty poor and slanted.

  21. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm | permalink

    I couldn’t care less about bridge/no bridge. I just want to drive down Stadium and not have the street shut down forever. I just checked the nowhere site and the points supporting NO bridge make a great deal of sense.

    No sure until I can learn more but the city needs to consider this as a serious option.

  22. By David Lewis
    May 16, 2009 at 8:58 am | permalink

    Taking the bridges down is an intriguing idea and it could mean a shorter period of down time for that section of Stadium than replacing the bridges. The Broadway bridge was down for 2 years? Drivers did cope with it fairly well. Stadium might be harder to work around.

    In any event I agree with not using local road money to fix it, we need that to make up for the cuts in road maintenance dollars coming from the state. The feds will eventually come through.

    The “no bridge” option needs further exploration in case the money is a long time coming.

  23. May 21, 2009 at 12:37 am | permalink

    The city has posted the proposed detour routes if the bridges go out for any length of time.

    Detour for Eastbound/Westbound Stadium.

    Detour for Southbound/Northbound State.

    The north-south detour diverts State Street traffic down Packard; the east-west detour sends traffic all the way out to Eisenhower via S Main and S Industrial. If and when those happen it will be at least as big a disruption as the Broadway bridges being out.