State Board: No Funding for Stadium Bridges

"I don't understand why the university hasn't stepped up"
East Stadium Bridge, looking west along Stadium Boulevard. (Photo by the writer.)

The East Stadium bridges, looking west along Stadium Boulevard. (Photo by the writer.)

The city of Ann Arbor’s attempt to start accumulating cash to replace the East Stadium Boulevard bridges failed on Thursday when a statewide board appropriating money for large bridges declined to give the city a share of the available dollars.

City officials had hoped to secure a portion of the $5.7 million in federal and state dollars awarded by the Local Bridges Advisory Board on Thursday at a meeting in Lansing.

But with a limited pot of money, and applications for projects totaling tens of millions of dollars, the eight-member board opted to put the resources behind smaller-ticket bridges.

“Throwing a little bit at that big a problem isn’t going to get people anywhere,” said board chairman Robert Clegg, the city engineer in Port Huron.

Why Ann Arbor Didn’t Win State Funding

A share of the available dollars would have provided just a fraction of the $23 million that Ann Arbor officials estimate it will take to replace the bridges, which lead over the railroad tracks and State Street just east of the University of Michigan’s football stadium and Crisler Arena.

In contrast, significant portions of the three bridges that were funded on Thursday will be covered by the money approved by the board. The money will pay for projects in Kalamazoo County and in the cities of Hastings and Manistee.

Ann Arbor’s proposal was, in fact, the most costly of the 10 projects before the bridge board. And board member Wayne Harrall, of the Kent County Road Commission, also commented on the minimal impact an appropriation would have on the second largest project – a bridge in the City of Sterling Heights. That request also went unfunded.

Other concerns weakened Ann Arbor’s funding request as well.

Clegg, in particular, faulted the city’s application for the absence of any financial commitment from the University of Michigan.

“You’ve got a large partner next to the road that’s generating traffic impact,” he told Ann Arbor city engineers who were in Lansing to address the board, which is made up of representatives from county and local governments. “I don’t understand why the university hasn’t stepped up or used its influence to get federal dollars, and it’s disheartening.”

Mike Nearing and

City of Ann Arbor engineers Mike Nearing, left, and Homayoon Pirooz responded to questions at the state Local Bridges Advisory Board meeting on Thursday in Lansing. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor engineer Homayoon Pirooz responded that it was unfair to punish the city for UM’s decision.

“Yes, the university benefits (from the bridges) like everyone else does,” he said. “We wish the university would contribute, but it’s not and the city can’t change that.”

Pirooz told the state board that the city was prepared to take on the lion’s share of the cost, if necessary.

That would mean using local street millage dollars normally dedicated to paving and maintenance. If Ann Arbor needed to use those locally-generated dollars on the bridges, most other maintenance work would be suspended for 3-4 years, he said. “It would have a significant impact on streets and roads.”

City officials have also contemplated the prospect of something like a 50-50 split between local and other funding sources, and of course still hope for a larger state and federal contribution, Priooz said.

The city is seeking federal funds either from a pending transportation bill or an economic-recovery program, known by the acronym TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.)

It’s possible that yet another federal program could provide a low-interest loan to pay for sidewalks and bike lanes, Pirooz told The Chronicle. “If we get a little here and a little there, hopefully it will add up,” he said.

Clegg would have been happier to see more of that “adding up” done before an application for assistance reached the board.

“I’ve seen communities work and work and get [congressional] earmarks and then come in and tell us how much more they needed,” he told The Chronicle after the board meeting. “That gives you something to work with. This is a really big project and Ann Arbor’s asking ‘What can you do for us?’”

Short-Term Work to Address Safety Issues

Built before 1930, the bridges carry traffic over State Street and Ann Arbor Railroad tracks. They’ve been subject to weight limits for some time. Two of the four lanes were closed to take the load off a weakened beam on the State Street bridge earlier this year.

City officials last month decided to remove the sagging beam as well as several others alongside it, based on the advice of an outside consultant.

That will eliminate the risk of concrete dropping on to State Street. It will also leave “a big hole in the bridge,” said Pirooz, who heads the city’s project management office.

The beams would need to be removed anyway, as part of an eventual bridge replacement.

Concrete barriers and fencing will be put in place as part of the work scheduled to take place Nov. 15-18.

Statewide, Condition of Bridges a Concern

A federal bridge engineer attending the five-hour session in Lansing expressed concern about the condition of the state’s bridges in general and the East Stadium bridge over State Street in particular.

Jon Nekritz, Federal Highway Administration division bridge engineer for Michigan, said he was relieved to hear that a crumbling concrete beam will be removed later this month.

“I’m real concerned about this and other bridges I’ve seen recently,” he said. “We need to take this much more seriously than we are.”

He voiced similar worries about an Oakland County bridge that was also reviewed for potential funding.

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison, bridge program manager for the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, at Thursday's meeting of the Local Bridges Advisory Board in Lansing. (Photo by the writer.)

Michigan Department of Transportation’s Mark Harrison, an engineer and the bridge program manager, said he’s seen a marked increase in bridges in poor condition – but no additional money.

Clegg also pointed to the lack of funding. “It’s a little bit daunting to have tens of millions of dollars in projects and less than $6 million to award,” he said.

Despite that, there was no objective set of criteria or any real system used to make the decisions.

A rating system is used in decisions made at the regional level, said Harrison. But members of the state-level board use their own discretion.

For Clegg, that included the view that the East Stadium plan is simply overlarge.

“They’ve got two bridges connecting, sidewalks and bicycle lanes. They’re going to raise them from where they are now… If you need more clearance, that’s what you do. It’s just too much,” he told The Chronicle.

The planned replacement bridges will be higher to meet current design standards. Like the old structures, they will have two lanes in each direction. Unlike the old structures, they will have sidewalks on both sides and bicycle lanes.

Federal authorities require both, said Nekritz, the federal bridge engineer.

Only one Ann Arbor resident – Arnold Goetzke – attended the session. But rather than call for support, Goetzke spoke against funding for new bridges and instead favored at-grade crossings. Goetze also addressed the Ann Arbor city council at the conclusion of their Thursday meeting during public commentary. He reiterating the view that he’s expressed before to them: The no-bridge option should be given formal study.

What About Bridge Replacement?

However, the preliminary design for the new bridges is done. Pirooz said work has begun on construction plans. “We hope to have the blueprints by midsummer.”

Work to replace the bridges is expected to begin next October, Pirooz told The Chronicle. The new bridges would be completed in the fall of 2012, he said. If neither the earmarks on the transportation bill nor the TIGER grant application are successful, they may well use up the majority of Ann Arbor’s street repair millage funds.

A yet-to-be-made decision about whether to close traffic completely or allow one-way traffic during construction would affect the duration of construction. That decision will fall to the city council.

The bridges carry an average of 25,000 plus cars a day.

About the writer: Judy McGovern lives in Ann Arbor. She has worked as a journalist here, and in Ohio, New York and several other states.


  1. November 6, 2009 at 1:26 am | permalink

    I thought Pirooz was a Project Management Manager; what’s the scoop?

  2. November 6, 2009 at 8:24 am | permalink

    Does this mean that the city will not even look at the no bridge option? That seems like an important task before spending a good amount of money.

  3. By Bob Martel
    November 6, 2009 at 8:59 am | permalink

    I’m 53 years old. Given how long it has taken to get virtually nowhere with the Argo dam/spillway repair/removal issue, I wonder if I will see a resolution to this bridge issue in my lifetime?

    Unlike Argo Dam, this bridge is a CRITICAL issue for our community. I urge the City to move expeditiously to provide a safe passage for vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic through this area even if the most practical solution given financial constraints involves a less than ideal “at grade” approach. I hate to think what would happen to traffic patterns in this town and the economic impact were this crossing to be 100% blocked!

  4. By Judy McGovern
    November 6, 2009 at 9:04 am | permalink

    Brian, you’re right. Homayoon Pirooz heads the city’s project management office. That’s Project Management Manager on the city’s org chart.

    Fred, I’m not aware of the City Council ever entertaining the no-bridge option (I defer to my colleague Mr. Askins). In late 2008 or early 2009, Roger Fraser, the city administrator, told me a couple of at-grade options were being looked at. However, design work on bridges is moving ahead.

  5. November 6, 2009 at 10:25 am | permalink

    Mr. Clegg makes an excellent point. The University can find the money for tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of construction in adjacent lots, but can’t contribute a single dime to keeping this essential bridge running?

    Drop Mary Sue Coleman a line at

  6. November 6, 2009 at 10:30 am | permalink

    It’s properly the “Local Bridge Advisory Board”, not the “Local Bridges Advisory Board”, a small detail but a useful one for search.

    Here’s the page on describing the program: Link

  7. By Jody
    November 6, 2009 at 10:45 am | permalink

    I salute Arnold Goetzke for having the courage and motivation to go there and stand up for the ‘no bridge’ option. This needs to be full investigated by an outside party. All other studies have been done by the city, yet they keep getting caught with their pants down. It takes a FOIA request to reveal that bricks are falling off the bridge and endangering commuters. It takes federal and state engineers to come in and say stuff like “We need to take this much more seriously than we are.” Building new bridges at an immense cost to the city, causing all other road repair projects to be postponed for years is NOT a sound proposition! A real study of an at-grade crossing must be done by a 3rd party must be done before I can support the city in this.

  8. By Mark
    November 6, 2009 at 11:44 am | permalink

    Considering that UM’s stadium and parking lots generate a ton (well, many tons) of traffic, I have to wonder how they could be ignorant of the town and gown aspect of the bridge. Is there a way for the city to put a surtax on football tickets to help pay for the bridge?

    Secondly, I think a no-bridge at grade option should be on the table. It would certainly have an impact on traffic flow, but I can’t imagine it being worse than Stadium and Main street. The trains tend to run at something like 3am on that track, so I don’t think the RR crossing would be as big a problem as some might make it out to be.

  9. By jack sprague
    November 6, 2009 at 11:53 am | permalink

    The University is in the business of education. It too deals with declining revenue – a minority of which actually comes from the state.

    I would suggest that the tax rates of A2 are excessive for the services delivered. However, the populace seems content with this fact.

    Perhaps – I suggest – a chicken coup millage ?

    Mayors provide basic services first. Even new York learned this lesson after Lindsay and Beame. Ann Arbor has yet to demonstrate an understanding of this transition.

    Popular appeal from quality of life projects is important to a politician’s portfolio. However, basic service failures drown out all other accomplishments. Quickly.

  10. By Undisclosed location
    November 6, 2009 at 11:58 am | permalink

    Maybe Mr. Clegg should be reminded of the mission and roles each public entity plays in this State.

    He should ask the residents of his city, Port Huron, and see if they pay their state taxes so that the legislature can give money to the university to fix bridges in Ann Arbor. Or does he think that what tuition dollars should be spent on?

  11. November 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    #9, 10: I completely agree with you on funding basic services first. If I had my way, the entire Obama “stimulus” would have been spent on fixing things that are actually broken, rather than on new construction.

    However, #9, #10, you are being way too easy on the University.

    #9, if the University is strictly in the business of education, what are all those gigantic facilities that you can see looking from the East stadium bridge? Exactly how much education is being accomplished by luxury boxes, golf courses, and the cathedral-like football practice facility?

    #10, what about all the University’s non-public sources of funding? Last I heard they had an endowment of $7B.

    Somehow the U can always find money for projects nebulously related to education, but can’t contribute a penny to fix a major public health hazard to which it is a significant contributor. For shame.

  12. November 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm | permalink

    Count me in with others in favor of further exploration of an at-grade design. Or a two-lane bridge option. Traffic will be declining in coming years. (See these videos for context.) We may not have a realistic choice but to deal with whatever train crossing delays arise.

    Even if state funds increased 50%, the funds for bridge replacement would be minimal. Future state funding isn’t likely to rise to that level and remain for long, if at all. We would do well to consider community-wide needs of this sort and reconsider our existing plans that anticipate state and/or federal assistance.

  13. By Jody
    November 6, 2009 at 1:38 pm | permalink

    Just like the city can find money for art projects, greenways and new office buildings, but can’t keep bridges from falling apart.

  14. November 6, 2009 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    I haven’t heard anyone who’s in favor of the at-grade solution come up with a convincing response to the city’s argument that the acute diagonal geometry of the site would make for a dangerous intersection.

    Allow me to suggest a solution: take a chunk out of the U of M golf course and approach the intersection from a right angle. ;-)

  15. By Marvin Face
    November 6, 2009 at 2:44 pm | permalink

    The at-grade crossings have been studied. And studied. And studied. It does not work and will not work. I know it looks simple and it’s easy to sit at your keyboards and say “yeah, they should do that, why has nobody ever thought of this”.

    Council has not addressed it because it isn’t up to them.

    Of course this won’t stop everyone from piling on with the at grade crossing idea as if it has never been thought of so carry on.

  16. By Mark
    November 6, 2009 at 4:52 pm | permalink

    I was please with the way Judy reported on this topic. I am generally very suspicious of the media because there are many things taken out of context, inaccurate, and/or misused for sensationalism. Your article was objective and for the most part, accurate.

  17. By David Lewis
    November 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm | permalink

    If you watched the meeting (last month?) where they were talking about this you heard the major hangups to making it an at grade crossing were it would be awkward (see above), MDOT does not want it (so no money, the UM does not want it, it won’t be cheap and perhaps most importantly the railroad won’t allow their right of way to be used.

    Apparently railroads have total control over their right of way that is buried in federal law and cannot be overturned by local and I don’t know for sure, but maybe even state courts.

    Why spend a lot of money designing something that won’t work?

  18. November 6, 2009 at 5:37 pm | permalink

    Why won’t at grade work?

    Sure the train has right of way. Cars stop at the tracks, and then they get to go when the train has passed. I know of no federal law that prohibits a street to cross a track; and I can think of more than 10,000 examples of where they do.

  19. By Rod Johnson
    November 6, 2009 at 5:48 pm | permalink

    Yeah, I’ve heard the at-grade option discussed pretty thoroughly. They’re not idiots.

  20. By John G.
    November 6, 2009 at 7:25 pm | permalink

    Apart from the railroad right-of-way issue, other obstacles include that planners and engineers have considered includ securing substantial rights-of-way along State and Huron from U-M and private property owners which would be needed for widening these streets in order to accommodate the turning lanes required for such an intersection. The other issue that’s been considered closely is the long-term costs of additional accidents that would occur at the rail crossing and the new State/Stadium intersection.

  21. November 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm | permalink

    I’m not sure about the railroad right of way issue. Based on the number of other Issues that turn out to be Non Issues, I don’t trust the Engineering department.

    The city has the footprint to put a 3 lane state and 5 lane stadium intersection. Just look at the lot lines.

    The Angle of Approach issue exists at Packard. Essentially, State and Stadium would be an exact duplicate of that intersection.

    MDOT has no concern about wanting a Bridge or Not. If they did want a Bridge so bad, they would have ponied up some money. They have offered zero, though. When the leader of the Local Bridge meeting asked the members what Ann Arbor could do in the future to secure money, nobody gave any answers. They didn’t think the Bridge was worth funding 2 years ago, this year, nor in the future.

    So, Ann Arbor is left to pay for it, an option that they admitted will be more expensive than an At Grade option. At least they acknowledged that when I met with them.

    For more details, visit www TheAnnArborBridgeToNowhere com

    The city at least owes a rational explanation as to why they are not pursing the At Grade option, and this includes a thorough cost study. Something that does not exist.



  22. By David Lewis
    November 6, 2009 at 10:33 pm | permalink

    Arnold: I guess I don’t understand the logic in your going to Lansing and telling a board that has cash to give that you don’t like the plan so don’t give the money. Just what the city needs, someone to rain on their parade. Thanks! It seems like it would have been better to speak in favor of the bridge.

    Just because they won’t bite on your plans you “don’t trust the engineering department.” Could it be they know better? Or do you think they are just being obstinate? If they thought the at-grade would meet muster and cost less, why wouldn’t they want to do it?

    The Broadway Bridges turned out great. (State funded) I love the new round-about at Traver and Nixon. (Federal funding.) Even if they had “just fair” engineers I would not favor lay people second guessing them. If you have a degree in bridge design and work for or own an engineering company that does bridge design, then OK, present an alternate plan.

    Not giving the money is no reason to think MDOT does not want a bridge over instead of an at grade crossing. This was a small pot of money and if anything I would suspect that they know Ann Arbor is doing a lot better than other places in Michigan and as a better chance of coming up with the funds. The city still has a lot of options to explore for funding.

  23. By Rod Johnson
    November 7, 2009 at 12:42 am | permalink

    The site Arnold doesn’t quite link to above is showing up in Firefox as a reported attack site, btw.

  24. November 7, 2009 at 8:06 am | permalink

    Well, that is odd. If you have the time, drop me a note with the error. I’ve share it with plenty of people – in and out of the government, and around the neighborhood – and nobody has mentioned anything.

  25. November 7, 2009 at 8:14 am | permalink

    Well Dave, the reason is because I don’t believe the City has done due dilligence investigating the No Bridge option.

    Ask the Engineers, they will agree it is cheaper. But, they don’t know how much it is – they never received any quotes, never sent it out for bid, etc. It costs perhaps $5 million per mile to install a road. How much to take down the bridge? How much for other incidentals? We could save several million dollars by not installing it, and in my opinion, make for a much better traffic pattern through the neighborhoods.

    Just because the City says it is the only way to do things does not make it so. They were very dismissive and have not done everything I think they can to pursue the least expensive alternative.

    You don’t need a degree to question how and why money is being spent, not do I need to be a road engineer to understand it would fit instead of a bridge. It is a spacial problem, not a mechanical problem.

    Bottom line is, nobody on the city council could tell you how much we could save by putting in an at grade road because they never found out. Nor could they tell you how the public feels because they never found out. That is the fundamental problem. And, they are spending over $20 million of our money.

  26. November 7, 2009 at 11:46 am | permalink

    Great reporting Judy.

    I could not help but zero in on Homayoon Pirooz’ statement, “If Ann Arbor needed to use those locally-generated dollars on the bridges, most other maintenance work would be suspended for 3-4 years, he said. “It would have a significant impact on streets and roads.”

    Lack of action on the bridge has already had a “significant impact” on a vital artery in the City for over a year now. There is $22.7M in the Street Repair Millage Fund (June 30, 2008)and it has been operating at a surplus most years. It is time that council makes a decision and fix the bridge or take it down! We need strong leadership from City Council and the Mayor.

  27. By Rod Johnson
    November 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm | permalink

    Yeah, Arnold, I looked at the source and couldn’t find anything. Here’s a link to a report: [link]

  28. By George Hammond
    November 7, 2009 at 3:10 pm | permalink

    The way the story is written, it sounds like Robert Clegg, board chairman, who seemed to think the bridge was too big, doesn’t understand that sidewalks and bikelanes are Federal requirements

    “”They’ve got two bridges connecting, sidewalks and bicycle lanes. They’re going to raise them from where they are now… If you need more clearance, that’s what you do. It’s just too much,” he told The Chronicle.

    The planned replacement bridges will be higher to meet current design standards. Like the old structures, they will have two lanes in each direction. Unlike the old structures, they will have sidewalks on both sides and bicycle lanes.

    Federal authorities require both, said Nekritz, the federal bridge engineer.”

    fwiw, I think it’s great that they are required.

    Mr. Goetzke, your website appears to have been subverted by third parties. It is listed by Google as an “attack site”, one that spreads infectious damaging software. The Firefox browser program detects these sites and warns visitors, other browsers like Internet Explorer and Safari don’t necessarily detect this.
    For more information, do a Google websearch on the address of your site, and look for the “This site may harm your computer” link.

  29. By Pete
    November 8, 2009 at 2:23 pm | permalink

    “You’ve got a large partner next to the road that’s generating traffic impact,” he told Ann Arbor city engineers who were in Lansing to address the board, which is made up of representatives from county and local governments. “I don’t understand why the university hasn’t stepped up or used its influence to get federal dollars, and it’s disheartening.”

    Amen! Let the bridge fall apart until it collapses (hopefully on a Saturday around 11am), then let the game day traffic try to find its own way where it wants to go. Folks will get so annoyed with coming to AA for games, they won’t anymore. *Then* if the U doesn’t want to help with the bridge, we can go ahead and pay for it knowing that it will last a bit longer with less football traffic coming over it.

  30. By Arnold goetzke
    November 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm | permalink

    Thanks again for the heads up. I’d rather have a bridge in my neighborhood than a virus anyday. I don’t really know what was up, but I got google to remove the flag….

    I think those people hoping to land the contract sabotaged it. That’s my conspiracy theory….

  31. November 12, 2009 at 1:30 pm | permalink

    Whats up with with the Idea of fund raising for the bridges?

  32. By Matt Hampel
    December 29, 2009 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    Whatever happens, we need this bridge over State: [Link]