AATA OKs North-South Rail Planning Costs

At its June 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized the funds for north-south commuter rail planning that were already part of its approved fiscal year 2012 budget, which runs through Sept. 30, 2012. The total in the line item for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) is $230,000, of which $45,000 are AATA funds.

Other entities that have contributed money to the WALLY project include: Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority ($50,000); Washtenaw County ($50,000); city of Howell DDA ($37,000); and a federal grant ($48,000). The planned expenditures are for station design work and for other consulting work on railroad operations and liability issues.

Ordinarily, the expenditure of funds from the budget would not necessarily need an explicit board authorization. However, in the case of the WALLY project, the board stipulated in a Sept. 15, 2011 resolution that the money designated for WALLY in the FY 2012 budget would not be expended without the explicit consent of the board. [See Chronicle coverage: "AATA on WALLY Rail: Forward with Caution"]

At its April 19, 2012 meeting, the AATA board had already received a written report in its board packet with an eight-page update on the status of WALLY, which is envisioned to provide north-south commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor.

The conclusion of the report is a staff recommendation to expend funds already included in the FY 2012 budget that are designated for the WALLY project.

One of the challenges for WALLY is the cooperation of the Ann Arbor Railroad in the use of the tracks south of roughly Barton and Plymouth roads on the north side of Ann Arbor. Ideally, the commuter service would extend farther south into Ann Arbor. The report contains a description of an Oct. 12, 2011 meeting between Ann Arbor Railroad president Jim Erickson and AATA CEO Michael Ford, when Ann Arbor Railroad expressed continued general opposition to passenger service on its property. However, the meeting offered some possibility that Ann Arbor Railroad would at least work with the AATA on the issue of railcar storage immediately south of a WALLY station. And the report describes Ann Arbor Railroad as willing to entertain a “business proposition.” [.pdf of April 2012 WALLY update]

The resolution passed by the AATA board on June 21, 2012 indicates that the expenditure of the funds for station design should not be analyzed as a commitment to future capital expenses or funding for operations: “AATA makes no commitment to providing either capital or operating funding at this time, and AATA currently takes no position regarding the start date of service due to the uncertainty with respect to funding. AATA will continue to work with MDOT and the local communities to seek and apply for federal funding of the project. Once funding issues are fully resolved, AATA will commit to a service start‐up date.”

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]