Ann Arbor Train Station Study Unearthed

On Feb. 10, 2012, the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor announced that UM would not be partnering to build a 1,000-space parking structure as part of the proposed Fuller Road Station project. [Chronicle timeline of Fuller Road Station]

In that context, it’s still expected that the city of Ann Arbor will continue to pursue the possibility of a transportation facility at the Fuller Park location – a proposal that would include moving the existing Amtrak station from its current spot on Depot Street, just north of (and below) the Broadway bridges.

An appropriate site for the Amtrak station has been studied before – 30 years ago. At the request of Sabra Briere, a city councilmember who represents Ward 1, the city of Ann Arbor has unearthed one study, done by Pollack Design Associates in 1979. [.pdf of "The Ann Arbor Depot: A First Phase Investigation of Location Alternatives for Rail Passenger Facilities" from Nov. 15, 1979]

Among those mentioned in the 1979 study report as a meeting participant is Clark Charnetski. He addressed a recent forum on sustainability (held on Feb. 9, 2012 by the city of Ann Arbor) on the topic of a choice of two locations for a train station – the current location on Depot Street, and the proposed location of Fuller Road Station, between Fuller Road and East Medical Center Drive, adjacent to the UM medical campus. He also addressed the city council at its transportation public hearing on Jan. 23, 2012, telling councilmembers he’s tired of waiting for a better transportation system.

The context of the 1979 study was one that pre-dates the existing Amtrak station, which was built in 1983. The ticket office and waiting area for Amtrak trains was situated in the same building complex as the Michigan Central Depot, renovated for use as the Gandy Dancer Restaurant. The smaller building to the west, out of which Amtrak operated, was described in the 1979 report this way: “This small building contains about 450 square feet, and includes waiting room for about one dozen people, ticket sales area, baggage storage, and express parcel storage. There can be up to four employees in the office at any one time.”

The 1979 report weighs the merits of five general areas as possibly locations for better train station facilities: (1) North Main Street; (2) Depot Street; (3) UM medical campus; (4) Dixboro Road; and (5) St. Joseph Hospital.

The study compares the locations based on size, number of owners, the existing zoning of the land, natural and cultural amenities, parcel shape and configuration, engineering complexity and cost factors, and access characteristics for pedestrians, bicycles, automobiles, intracity buses, and intercity buses.

Alternative (3) corresponds to the general location of the now-contemplated Fuller Road Station. The study does not make a specific recommendation. But the eventual construction of the station was at location (2).

Possibly to appear on the city council’s March 19 agenda is an item related to the Federal Rail Administration’s $2.8 million award (in May 2011) to the city of Ann Arbor related to site study and environmental analysis of a rail station. The item will deal with acceptance and expenditure of that grant. At a March 2, 2012 drop-in information session hosted by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, AATA board member and city of Ann Arbor transportation program manger Eli Cooper clarified that the site study and environmental analysis funded by the FRA is not confined to a single site.

A more recent planning document than the 1979 study dates from three years ago in the form of the “City of Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update,” which was adopted by the Ann Arbor city council at its May 4, 2009 meeting. A map depicting commuter rail station facilities includes the Fuller Road Station site. [.pdf of map extracted from 2009 Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update showing commuter rail facilities]

The AATA’s information session on March 2 was held in the context of the subsequent city council vote on a four-party countywide transit agreement, which won approval from the Ann Arbor city council three days later on March 5, 2012.

Councilmember Briere is hosting a walk around the area of the current Amtrak station on March 16 at 2 p.m., which will start from the current station. She’s invited members of the public who are interested in alternative sites for a train station to join her as she tours the area with relevant city staff.