Ann Arbor Rail Study Moves Ahead

At its June 4, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council took action on two items that relate to a possible new train station for the city of Ann Arbor. The first was acceptance of a grant made through the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT)  for initial planning and environmental documentation related to possible construction of what’s now called the Ann Arbor Rail Passenger Station. The contract for the work is being funded with a federal grant worth $2,806,400 with a required 20% local match of $701,600. The grant was awarded by the Federal Rail Administration in connection with the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program.

A conceptual pre-cursor to the project was called the Fuller Road Station, which included the participation of the University of Michigan in the form of a 1,000-space parking structure to be built in conjunction with a new rail station on an identified site nestled between Fuller Road and East Medical Center Drive, adjacent to the UM medical campus. However, UM withdrew from that project earlier this year, on Feb. 10, 2012. The university decided instead to revisit its earlier plans to build additional parking on Wall Street.

For purposes of the federal local match requirement, Ann Arbor now intends to use funds already expended in connection with work associated with the Fuller Road Station – for conceptual planning, environmental documentation efforts and some preliminary engineering. The city has paid for that work from  its major street fund, alternative transportation fund, and the previously existing economic development funds over the past three years.

The city also hopes that UM will contribute toward the costs of the work already done. However, the city’s FY 2013 budget, approved by the council at its May 21 meeting, allocates up to $307,781 from the city’s general fund to cover the local match, if an agreement with UM can’t be reached. Responding to Chronicle queries last week, city administrator Steve Powers and UM community relations director Jim Kosteva have characterized the conversations between the city and the university on this topic as “ongoing dialogue.” The June 4 vote on the acceptance of the grant was 9-2, with Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) dissenting.

The council also approved a $196,192 amendment to an existing contract with SmithGroup JJR for continuation of study and planning work that was already done in connection with the Fuller Road Station project. The work under the contract will be funded from the HSIPR grant, and will involve continued ”… re-examination of the current program definition to affirm it is consistent with the stakeholder goals for the Ann Arbor Rail Passenger Station Project, and revisions as required to the conceptual plan” as well as completion of required National Environmental Policy Act documentation. Lumm and Anglin also dissented on the SmithGroup JJR contract.

Several people spoke against the two actions during public commentary at the start of the council meeting, or submitted written statements in advance of the meeting. They cited a range of concerns, including their objection to the possible conversion of city parkland to a use as a transportation facility without a popular referendum. Also a concern was the ability of SmithGroup JJR to be objective in its site alternatives environmental analysis, given that SmithGroup JJR has been the city’s consultant for the preliminary work, which had assumed that the site of a new train station would be on Fuller Road near the UM medical campus. Another objection was that no good argument had been made that the city should build and operate a building for Amtrak to use as a train station. The existing Amtrak station that serves Ann Arbor is located on Depot Street near the Broadway bridges.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]