AAATA OKs More North-South Rail Study

Additional study of north-south commuter rail has been approved by the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The contact for work to be done by SmithGroupJJR for up to $800,000 worth of planning work was approved by the AAATA board in action taken at its July 24, 2014 board meeting. [.pdf memo for July 24, 2014 WALLY resolution]

Planning and work for north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell in Livingston County has been going on for several years in a project that has been called WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway). The AAATA appears to be transitioning to a project label that incorporates “N-S Rail” as part of the description.

About two years ago, at its  Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, the AAATA board approved the award of a $105,200 contract to SmithGroupJJR for “station location and design services” in connection with the WALLY project. The board’s authorization included an option to increase the contract scope at a later date. That’s what the board’s July 24, 2014 action did – increasing the total amount of the contract from $105,200 to $800,000.

Of that $800,000, a significant portion will be covered with a federal grant received by the AAATA in 2012 under the federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program. The federal grant award of $640,000 requires a $160,000 local match, which will be made by the Howell Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor DDA and Washtenaw County – equaling a total of $143,000, with the remaining $17,000 to come from the AAATA.

The initial $105,200 contract with SmithGroupJJR was focused on a station location study and is now largely complete. The conclusion of that station location study was to identify a segment of the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, between Liberty and Washington streets, as a preferred location for a downtown station.

The scope of the additional work under the contract approved by the AAATA board on July 24, 2014 will:

  • Thoroughly examine alternatives/supplements to N-S Rail service such as express bus, bus-on-shoulder and HOV options
  • Complete the evaluation of boarding areas (stations) in terms of locations, costs and required features.
  • Estimate operating and capital costs at a much finer level of detail, taking into account new service concepts, rail right-of-way work, ownership changes, and railcar acquisition that has taken place since 2008.
  • Undertake a more rigorous approach to demands estimates in full compliance with FTA New Starts / Small Starts requirements.
  • Incorporate “green” concepts and operating principles.
  • Be accompanied by a robust public involvement effort aimed at informing stakeholders and testing public support for the service, governance and funding elements of the plan as they evolve.

The timeframe for the second phase of the study is about 18 months.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AAATA board holds its meetings.