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]