Transit Center Construction Manager Hired

Also: AATA CEO Ford gets contract – reward, no raise

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 19, 2011): In a relatively brief meeting, the AATA board handled two pieces of business: (1) approving a contract with its CEO Michael Ford; and (2) hiring a construction manager for the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center, AATA’s downtown hub.


This AATA-owned parcel, where Blake Transit Center is located, sits in the middle of the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth avenues on the west and east, and by Liberty and William streets on the north and south. Among the outstanding issues in a project to rebuild BTC is discussions with the city of Ann Arbor over a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip that runs along the southern edge of the parcel’s western half. (Image links to higher resolution view. Parcel map and aerial photo from Washtenaw County’s website:

The contract with Ford renews annually on Oct. 1 unless terminated by Ford or the AATA. Ford will earn the same salary as he did previously – $160,000 – but will receive a lump sum payment equal to 4% of his salary dating from July 20, 2009, when he was first hired. Board members uniformly praised Ford’s work for the AATA since he was hired in the summer of 2009.

Approval of the construction manager contract for the downtown Blake Transit Center sets up the reconstruction project possibly to begin in earnest later this year. AATA has so far declined to release any schematics or drawings of the proposed new transit center to the public, citing as-yet-unfinalized details, including issues related to a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip on the southern edge of the parcel’s western half.

The new transit center will be built on the same AATA-owned parcel where BTC is currently located, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, north of William Street and a city-owned surface parking lot. The current building sits at the northwest corner of the parcel, long Fourth Avenue – buses enter from Fifth Avenue and exit onto Fourth Avenue. The planned design calls for a new building to be constructed kitty-corner on the parcel from the existing building, which would be demolished. The new transit center would sit at the southeast corner of the parcel – buses would enter from Fourth Avenue and exit onto Fifth Avenue.

At its meeting, the board also heard its usual range of reports and commentary. Among those reports, Ford told the board that two local governments – Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township – have voted to sign an Act 7 agreement. That’s a step that will allow their joint participation and representation in a countywide transit authority.

Construction Manager for Blake

The board was asked to consider a contract with Spence Brothers for up to a total of $384,000 to oversee two major construction projects for AATA: (1) demolition and reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center on Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor [$253,000]; and (2) expansion of the bus storage facility at the AATA headquarters located at 2700 S. Industrial [$131,000].

The need for a construction manager was identified by representatives of the Federal Transit Administration after reviewing AATA projects that are being funded with federal dollars.

At its May 12, 2010 meeting, the AATA board had approved a $343,439 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc. for architectural and engineering services to reconstruct the transit center.

At this month’s board meeting, CEO Michael Ford asked Terry Black, AATA’s manager of maintenance, to give an update on the Blake Transit Center reconstruction project. They’re still working on design and aesthetics, Black reported.

Remaining issues include working on a 10-foot-wide green strip as a border with the federal building property on the north side of the site. The AATA and the city of Ann Arbor are also still working out an agreement on a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip along the southern part of the parcel’s western half. The construction manager contract, on which the board would be voting, Black said, would provide a check and balance on the design firm. From there, the project could start rolling, he said.

In reporting out from the planning and development committee, AATA board member Rich Robben noted that in the resolution on the Blake Transit Center construction manager contract, the fees could be as high as $384,000 – but might turn out to be less because it’s negotiated under the Brooks Act.

The federal Brooks Act requires that the selection of contractors be based on qualifications, not price. The AATA received proposals from the following firms for the construction manager work:

  • Braun Construction Group, Farmington Hills, MI
  • The Christman Company, Livonia, MI
  • DeMaria Building Company, Detroit, MI
  • Irish Construction, Howell, MI
  • T. H. Marsh Construction Company, Ann Arbor, MI
  • O’Neal Construction, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Owen-Ames-Kimball Co., Grand Rapids, MI
  • Park Avenue Consultants Inc., Ann Arbor, MI
  • Phoenix Contractors, Ypsilanti, MI
  • White Construction Co. Inc., Detroit, MI
  • Spence Brothers, Ann Arbor, MI

The breakdown for the Blake Transit Center work and the bus storage expansion to be awarded to Spence Brothers is (1) $253,000 for BTC, and (2) $131,00 for the bus storage. In a staff memo, the Spence Brothers’ proposal is evaluated as being in line with industry standards when expressed as a percentage of total construction costs: 5-6%. That translates to $4.2-5.0 million for the project. Funding sources for the transit center reconstruction, based on previous Chronicle reporting – from December 2009 and October 2010:

  • $1.6 million federal grant
  • $0.4 million state match (25% of $1.6 million)
  • $0.735 million federal grant
  • $0.183 million state match
  • $1.0 million federal state-of-good-repair match

Outcome: The construction manager contract was unanimously approved by the board.

CEO’s New Contract

Before the board for approval was a new employment contract with its chief executive officer, Michael Ford, who was hired in the summer of 2009. [For a report on Ford's April 2009 final interview: "AATA, CEO Candidate Start Talks"]

The contract, which is renewable each year on Oct. 1, pays Ford $160,000 a year – the same compensation he received last year. Ford is not receiving a raise this year, but will receive a one-time additional payment equal to 4% of his annual salary – his base salary will not change.

Board members at the meeting praised Ford’s work over the last year in leading the AATA’s countywide transit master planning effort.

Roger Kerson led off board commentary by saying that Ford’s efforts on the transit master plan (TMP) have been extraordinary. Sue McCormick added that she wanted to say how pleased the board is to move forward with another contract. Board chair Jesse Bernstein said he was especially pleased that they have a clear process for evaluating the CEO, which ties performance to the budget. David Nacht said he appreciated the leadership of Bernstein and McCormick for providing to the board a timeline on the budget process and CEO evaluation process in a simple, laid out presentation.

Nacht said he’d appreciated the work of the committee – Bernstein and McCormick – who had negotiated the new contract with Ford. He noted that it’s difficult to negotiate a contract with a serious professional in the current economic climate, when there’s a need by the community to watch every nickel spent. At the same time, Nacht continued, the AATA has to respect the level of performance it’s getting. The community should feel comfortable. Bernstein said he is thrilled with the job Ford has done. The board and the AATA have accomplished a great deal over the last couple of years, and could not have done it without Ford’s leadership, Bernstein said.

Anya Dale added that through her work with Washtenaw County as a planner, she talks to representatives from other communities. And they report how wonderful it’s been talking to representatives of the AATA – she felt it was the first time the AATA has been a real leader.

Charles Griffith reported that he’s heard sentiments similar to those Dale had reported. He said he’s glad Ford has decided to stick with the AATA and to sign up for another year. Hopefully, Griffith said, he’ll sign on for many more.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the new contract.

Board: Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its May meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from the CEO, Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights not included elsewhere in the report.

Comm/Comm: Board Reappointments

In his report to the board, CEO Michel Ford acknowledged the reappointment of Charles Griffith and Rich Robben to the AATA board through May 2016. Their nominations were confirmed by the city council at its May 2 meeting. He thanked Griffith and Robben and other board members for their support and help in moving the AATA forward.

Comm/Comm: Rail Transit Funding

Ford reported the recent news that some funding for rail transit had come through the Michigan Dept. of Transportation from the Federal Rail Administration – the city of Ann Arbor had been awarded $2.8 million for the Fuller Road Station project. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "PAC Gets Update on Fuller Road Station"]. Ford called it “exciting news,” and said it gets the city closer to an intermodal facility. He pointed out that the station is included as a part of the AATA’s transit master plan (TMP).

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

Ford reported that the Plymouth-State connector study project continues to move forward. URS, which is the consultant on the project, had given a presentation to the board a couple of months ago, Ford reminded board members, and will give a presentation to the city probably sometime in the fall. The next steps would include a preliminary engineering and environmental assessment, Ford said. [Coverage of the URS presentation to the AATA board: "AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates"]

Comm/Comm: Transit Master Plan, Governance

Ford said the leadership team for the transit master plan had met, moderated by board chair Jesse Bernstein. Community outreach meetings continue to take place. [A Chronicle column that includes reporting from one of those meetings, which took place in Ypsilanti: "Column: Chevy Volt – Private Transit Choices"]

Discussions on the governance of a countywide authority continue, said Ford. He’s continuing to meet with representatives of various municipalities. He reported that Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township will sign an Act 7 agreement – that will allow their joint participation and representation in a countywide transit authority. By way of background, Act 7 is the Urban Cooperation Act of 1967. [.pdf of Act 7] It’s not specific to transit issues, but rather provides a framework for different units of local government to form agreements with each other. [Previous Chronicle coverage on countywide transit authority governance: "Concerns Aired Over Transit Governance"]

Board member Roger Kerson asked Ford for more details on governance discussions. He asked what Ford was imagining as far as sequencing and timing.

Ford said he’d met with Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township officials, and that they had actually voted on an Act 7 accord. Ford said he’d also talked to other local units, but no others had yet voted. He hoped everything would be in place by fall – that is, that each group of governmental units in the sections of the county that had been identified would get to determine their participation in a countywide transportation authority, based on Act 7 agreements. Ford said that the AATA has a lot of work ahead of it in the next several months. By fall, he said, an “unincorporated group” should be able to start forming.

Comm/Comm: Living Wage

Reporting out from the planning and development committee, Rich Robben spoke about a living wage policy that the AATA has been considering at the committee level. AATA staff had provided some information to the committee, Robben said, and had followed calculations by the city of Ann Arbor. Staff will make updates based on committee suggestions, and it will likely come back before the committee for its June meeting. The committee may recommend that it come before the full board.

By way of background, the board had passed a resolution at its Dec. 16, 2010 meeting to explore some kind of living wage standard for its contractors. The city of Ann Arbor’s ordinance for its contractors is tied to federal poverty guidelines and was earlier this month increased by a percent. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Law Nudges Living Wage Upwards"]

Comm/Comm: Ridership, Fuel Prices

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith said they went over AATA’s financial and performance reports as usual, and found the agency is in pretty good shape financially – it’s doing well on its performance metrics, he said.

The ridership on the express routes – from Chelsea to Ann Arbor, and from Canton to Ann Arbor – have shown some increase in ridership, Griffith said. That’s probably due to efforts on the part of staff and the University of Michigan to send email alerts, as well as a promotional 10-ride ticket sold at a discounted rate to try to get people into the program, he said. Performance on those routes will continue to be monitored, Griffith said.

Jesse Bernstein followed up a few minutes later by asking if there was any data about the impact of fuel prices, or if that would not be apparent until next month. Phil Webb, AATA’s controller, told Bernstein that ridership has increased, but it’s difficult to say how much is attributable to fuel costs. As far as the AATA’s own fuel costs, Webb said, the organization is actually under budget, because the AATA buys fuel futures contracts.

Comm/Comm: On-Time, Website, Rotating Auditor

Continuing his update from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Griffith said the committee had received a report on on-time performance. In a report they’d heard a few months ago, they had focused on very late buses. More recently, they’d looked at each time point – a bus might arrive at its route end at the Blake Transit Center on time, but be late at time points along the way.

The committee had also received a presentation on website development and information architecture, Griffith said. “It’s not exactly fun reading,” he allowed, but it gives an idea of what the architecture of the AATA website is. The committee had provided a little bit of input for the wording on the top buttons on the site, and would receive more updates as the website redesign progresses.

The committee had started discussion about an auditor rotation policy, but had not gone into detail, because committee members wanted to have board member Sue McCormick at a meeting before they proceeded. She had been the one originally to raise the issue. [McCormick had raised the issue at the board's Sept. 16, 2010 meeting, when board members approved a contract with Rehman as its auditor, but only for one year.]

The issue needs to come before the board at its next meeting so that there will be time to issue a request for proposals in time for next year’s audit, Griffith said.

Comm/Comm: Local Advisory Council – Driver Appreciation

Jody Slowins reported out from the AATA’s local advisory council, beginning by saying that she’d been involved with the LAC for more than 12 years. In that time, she said, the whole tenor has changed a lot. People initially wanted to be on the council and just wanted to complain. It’s evolved into a more involved council, she said. The LAC has been working on a new driver appreciation program. She extended compliments to the staff liaison to the LAC, Brian Clouse – he’s been a wonderful connection between AATA and the council, she said. The driver recognition program program would recognize people for positive behavior. She hoped drivers would try to aspire to be recognized. The program would be about rewarding people, instead of cutting them down in a punitive way.

Comm/Comm: Accessible, Affordable Transportation

Thomas Partridge spoke during both opportunities for the public to address the board. He introduced himself as a Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor resident, and advocate of county residents who need and deserve public transportation the most in the current economic climate: middle-income families, students, seniors and disabled people. At the most recent Ann Arbor city council meeting, he reported, the increase of taxicab rates “sailed through” council’s approval. Even though the council consists all of Democrats, they didn’t even discuss the issue he’d brought forth during the public hearing, he said – namely, the general negative impact on those who need AATA’s service.

Partridge asked that the AATA board continue to make accessible, affordable transportation and para-transit its top priorities and to keep rates affordable and expand the service countywide. The board should find subsidies to reduce rates for seniors and disabled people. He noted that one reason Michael Ford was hired as AATA’s CEO was to institute an affordable, accessible countywide transportation system.

During his second turn at the podium, Partridge said the county needs transit on a more open, accessible and friendly basis than it’s currently being provided. He criticized the board for discussing issues in skeleton terms, with a predetermined agenda, and decisions already made. Agenda items are mentioned in passing and then given unanimous approval, he said. Discussions need to be more full and open.

Partridge said he’s critical of the board chair, the AATA’s CEO, the mayor and the city council for not making greater efforts to unite governmental units in county. Partridge said he attends Ann Arbor city council meetings as much as possible, and the sense he gets is that there’s not enough person-to-person contact between the AATA appearing in public in front of the city council and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Both of those organizations want to be in on the decision-making of this body, Partridge concluded. [The last occasion on which a representative of the AATA appeared at the city council was the Ann Arbor city council's Jan. 20, 2009 meeting. Then-board chair David Nacht appeared before the body to give councilmembers an update.]

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale

Next regular meeting: Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]