$8M OK’d for New Downtown Transit Center

A new downtown Ann Arbor transit center, which began with a budget of $3.5 million, has now received approval for construction contracts totaling $8,129,988. The approval came from the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in a vote at its Oct. 18, 2012 meeting. Construction is expected to begin in late November or early December, according to Terry Black, AATA director of maintenance, who has been managing the project.

The new Blake Transit Center will be located on the same parcel where it’s currently located, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, but on the opposite side of the block from its current location. Bus traffic to the new Fifth Avenue-facing center will enter from Fourth Avenue and exit onto Fifth, which is opposite from the current traffic flow. In order to square off the parcel for the new construction, a six-foot wide strip of land on the southwestern edge of the parcel was purchased by the AATA from the city of Ann Arbor for $90,000.

Construction bids came in totaling $8.5 million. But as of the board’s Jan. 19, 2012 meeting, the AATA had only identified about $7 million in funding for the project. At that meeting, the board authorized a $7 million project budget –  in the context of approving its capital and categorical grant program for 2012–2016. That amount was an increase from a $5.5 million project budget that been approved at the board’s Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, when it had revised the capital grant program. The initial project budget had been $3.5 million.

The increase in cost is described in the staff memo accompanying the board’s Oct. 18 resolution as due to a variety of factors, including changes in design based on community input and environmental analysis. The original $3.5 million design was for a one-story building on the current building’s footprint. The approved design is for a three-level structure (two above ground) with foundations that could support another two stories – at an additional cost of $100,000. Subjecting the project to the city’s regular site plan approval process – which is not a legal requirement – cost several hundred thousand dollars, according to the staff memo. The city’s planning commission reviewed the project on July 17, 2012 and the city council received the review as part of its Aug. 20 meeting written communications.

According to a memo to the board from AATA CEO Michael Ford, money identified by the AATA beyond the $7 million budget included $700,000 from a 2002 federal grant that apparently had been earmarked for a new Blake Transit Center. The gap between the $7.7 million and the $8.5 million total construction bid could have been covered through an additional $750,000 in federal formula funds (Section 5307) that are available this year.

The board’s performance monitoring and external relations committee was divided at its Oct. 16 meeting on the question of increasing the budget to the $8.5 million mark. The committee recommended revisions to the project to cover the gap only to the point of $8,049,988. [.pdf of constructions contracts for BTC] The committee, according to AATA board member Roger Kerson, wanted the entire board to contemplate the issue of possibly increasing the budget further.

A memo from Ford to the full board asked for consideration of nearly the full construction bid amount, so that key elements could be restored to the project: LEED Gold Certification ($80,000); real-time bus arrival kiosk signage; and ticket vending machines ($125,000). Those three items would have brought the total project cost to $8,424,988.

After a lengthy discussion, the board added back in only the $80,000 cost for LEED certification.

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]