Ann Arbor Council OKs Rail Station Study

Continued study of alternative sites and conceptual design for a possible new Amtrak station for the city of Ann Arbor has been given approval by the city council. The vote, taken at the council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting, was unanimous.

Amtrak train arrival (Chronicle file photo from September 2013)

Amtrak train arrival in Ann Arbor. (Chronicle file photo from September 2013)

The specific action taken by the council was to approve a contract with URS Corporation Inc. (URS) to conduct the Ann Arbor Station project environmental review. The total approved for the Ann Arbor Station contract by the council – which will cover public engagement, site selection and conceptual design – was $824,875, an amount that includes a $63,083 contingency. The city would pay 20% of that, or about $165,000.

Councilmembers who might have otherwise objected to spending the money on the planning project indicated that they were persuaded by (1) the fact that there was to be no presupposed preferred alternative location for the station, and (2) that the public engagement process outlined in the project tasks was thorough.

This rail station project relates most immediately to the prospect that Amtrak will be offering improved intercity service on the Chicago-Detroit Amtrak line. The improvements – shorter travel times and more reliable service – are based in part on improvements the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is currently making to the tracks, which it purchased from Norfolk Southern in late 2012. An improved intercity rail station also has implications for the way that a different type of service – commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit – might be created and offered in the future.

A transfer of $550,000 to the city’s major grant fund was approved a year ago by the city council at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting for the total project budget.

The federal grant that will cover 80% of the project cost, up to $2.8 million for the federal share, had been accepted by the council at its June 4, 2012 meeting. So for the contract approved by the city’s Oct. 21 action, the city’s share works out to approximately $165,000 – with the Federal Rail Authority covering the remaining $660,000.

The funding approved by the city council a year ago came after the city learned that previous expenditures – which were made in connection with the now demised Fuller Road Station project – would not be considered as eligible local matching funds under the federal grant. Fuller Road Station had been a joint venture with the University of Michigan, and called for UM to build a parking structure on the same site as the rail station at a location on Fuller Road.

The preliminary work that URS will do under the contract on the Oct. 21 agenda does not presuppose a preferred location for a new passenger rail station. The existing Amtrak station on Depot Street would be among the alternatives considered, in addition to the location identified for the Fuller Road Station, which is on city-owned land between Fuller Road and East Medical Center Drive adjacent to the UM medical center.

The Fuller Park land is designated by the city in planning documents as parkland, and is zoned as public land. A 2009 appraisal commissioned by the city put the value of the land at $4.25 million.

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]