North-South Rail Planning Gets Boost

A somewhat unexpected $640,000 federal grant to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Michigan Dept. of Transportation will allow continued planning and study for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project. The grant was announced on Aug. 6, 2012 and was awarded under the Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) Program. AATA had applied for the grant last November, but did not have high expectations, given the competitive nature of the grants.

Taking advantage of the grant award, as well as other funds that the AATA had allocated at its June 21, 2012 for such work, the AATA board voted at its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting to award a $105,200 contract to SmithGroup JJR for “station location and design services” in connection with the WALLY project. The board’s authorization includes an option to increase the contract scope at a later date.

Based on the staff memo included in the AATA’s performance monitoring and external relations committee minutes, the initial phase of the project will focus on station location studies for five communities: Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell. In Ann Arbor, attention will be focused on the Barton Road location and how a station can be designed that overcomes the constraints imposed by a large drainage culvert. Future phases would also include detailed designs of each site selected in the initial phase, with additional station sites in Ann Arbor – a downtown location (probably between Liberty and Washington streets, according to the memo) and one near the University of Michigan football stadium.

The track from the Barton Road location southward is owned by the Ann Arbor Railroad, which has historically been uninterested in passenger rail use on it tracks. But in the fall of 2011, AARR indicated at least a willingness to entertain a “business proposition” on such use. Some kind of arrangement would be necessary in order to contemplate stations south of Barton Road – like downtown or the football stadium.

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