Stories indexed with the term ‘WALLY’

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, … [Full Story]

Main & Summit

Presentation on WALLY Ann Arbor downtown station locations from SmithGroupJJR. Lots of interaction from crowd of about 25 (not including various staffs). Presentation will be available in a few days at (currently bumps to AAATA site). Used 3 criteria to identify 5 alternative sites for a 645 ft footprint. Several wildcards include need for layover location (4 trains will stay in Ann Arbor until return trip to Howell).

First & William

Train engine and one double-decker passenger rail car are positioned near the parking lot at First & William for public tours, as part of Friday’s Green Fair. According to a city press release, the train cars are former Metra bi-level gallery cars that were refurbished by the Great Lakes Central Railroad. This type of passenger car could serve on a commuter line between Ann Arbor and Detroit or between Ann Arbor and Howell, according to the city. [photo] [photo]

Next Steps for AATA’s Possible Transition

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 16, 2012): The AATA board achieved its minimum quorum of four out of seven members at its monthly meeting. But they were joined by three as-yet non-voting members of a possible new transit authority, The Washtenaw Ride – which could have a countywide governance structure and service area.

Karen Lovejoy Roe

Karen Lovejoy Roe, Ypsilanti Township clerk, attended the AATA board’s Aug. 16 meeting as representative of the Southeast District on an as-yet unincorporated board of a countywide transportation authority. During the meeting she expressed enthusiastic support for expanded transit. (Photos by the writer.)

As part of that goal of establishing the new authority, the AATA board gave final approval to a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The agreement would establish a framework for the transition of the AATA to a transit authority incorporated under Act 196 of 1986 – to be called The Washtenaw Ride. That authority would have a 15-member board.

An unincorporated version of the Washtenaw Ride’s board (the U196) has been meeting since late 2011. The three guests at the table for the Aug. 16 AATA board meeting are representatives of three districts in the possible new authority: Karen Lovejoy Roe (Southeast District), Bob Mester (West District) and David Phillips (Northeast District).

Those three were not there to vote, and did not participate in deliberations, though they could have. However, Lovejoy Roe – who serves as Ypsilanti Township clerk, an elected position – gave one of the most enthusiastic statements of support for the countywide initiative that’s been heard at the AATA board table over the last two years. “I’m just really excited about where we’re headed as a community, as a county at large. I know that there’s been a lot of hiccups, but I think that that’s normal … I’m committed, and I think that those who’ve asked me to be here working willingly and openly to do what’s best for all county residents [are, too] …”

One element of the 30-year vision that the AATA has developed for countywide transportation is a north-south commuter rail connection between Ann Arbor and Howell, in Livingston County. And the planning effort was given continued support at the Aug. 16 meeting when the board awarded a $105,200 contract to SmithGroupJJR for station location and design services in connection with the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project.

That overall planning effort was given a boost by a somewhat unexpected $640,000 federal grant to the AATA and Michigan Dept. of Transportation. The grant was awarded on Aug. 6, 2012 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.

In other business, the board decided to accept a non-applicable penalty – which has no actual impact – and not comply with Michigan’s Public Act 192 for its unionized employees. The act mandates limits on how much public employers can contribute to their employee health care costs. The decision was essentially based on deference to a federal law that applies to agencies receiving federal funding – like the AATA. That federal law requires benefits like health care to be collectively bargained, not stipulated. Under the state law, failure by the AATA to comply would just mean that it would be denied state funds to which it is not even entitled.

In the meeting’s other business item, the AATA approved a three-year contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York, to handle placement of ads on its buses and bus stops. That’s a change from the previous contract, which was held by Transit Advertising Group (TAG) of Farmington Hills, Mich. [Full Story]

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 … [Full Story]

State Health Care Law Prompts AATA Debate

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (June 21, 2012): Deliberations by Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board members were uncharacteristically animated as they discussed how to comply with a state-imposed limit on the amount that public employers can contribute to their employee heath care costs. Ultimately the 4-2 vote was to act now, not later, to impose a cap of 80% on the amount that the AATA will contribute to its non-union employee health care costs.

AATA board member Roger Kerson

AATA board member Roger Kerson argues against immediate action on Act 152, which limits the amount that public employers can contribute to employee health care. (Photos by the writer.)

That action meets the requirements of last year’s state Act 152, signed into law in September 2011, which limits employer contributions to a fixed dollar amount. But Act 152 also allows for the governing body of a public entity – in this case, the AATA board – to vote to cap the employer contribution at 80%, leaving 20% to be covered by employees. And that’s what the AATA board did at its June 21 meeting. Dissenting on the vote were Charles Griffith and Roger Kerson, who felt that the timing was perhaps too early – because the contract for AATA’s unionized workforce goes through the end of the year.

Based on the way that some other transit agencies in Michigan had handled their Act 152 compliance, Griffith and Kerson felt it might be possible to delay action for its non-union staff until AATA was required to act on its union workers’ health care costs. That approach is based on the idea that all employees participate in the same health care plan. However, the advice of the AATA’s own legal counsel was that Act 152 doesn’t explicitly provide for that uniform treatment of employees, just because they participate in the same health care plan.

Kerson urged that the board consider taking the AATA’s “windfall” from its compliance with the state law and reinvesting in non-health care compensation. Just because the state had given public entities a hammer, Kerson said, did not mean that they had to use it against their employees.

In other board action, the expenditure of funds for planning a north-south commuter rail project – from Howell to Ann Arbor, known as WALLY – was authorized. The money had previously been included in the AATA’s approved budget for fiscal year 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. But the board had passed a resolution that requires explicit board approval before the money in the budget could be expended. AATA’s portion of the $230,000 in planning costs is $45,000, with the remainder contributed by a range of other public entities – the federal government, the city of Howell, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and Washtenaw County.

Another planning effort that’s moving forward did not appear as a voting item on the agenda, but was included in CEO Michael Ford’s written report to the board: continued study of a possible Ann Arbor transit connector for a corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and further south to I-94.

The AATA received a $1.2 million federal grant for an alternatives analysis phase of the study – which will result in a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops. That federal grant comes with the requirement of a $300,000 local match, which now appears to have been secured in the form of $60,000 from the city of Ann Arbor; $150,000 from the University of Michigan; and $90,000 from the AATA itself. A feasibility study for the connector has already been completed.

In other action, the board authorized the purchase of five new lift-equipped vehicles for its paratransit service. The five vehicles will replace existing vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life.

Another non-voting item on the meeting agenda, but one that was included in the CEO’s written report, was news of a collaboration between AATA and the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Starting this fall, the AATA will provide transportation for three existing school bus routes – one for each of Ann Arbor’s comprehensive high schools – by extending existing AATA routes. AAPS will pay AATA $0.50 for each student who boards, which will be counted with a pass that can be swiped through the fare box. [Full Story]

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. … [Full Story]

AATA Gets Countywide Task Force Report

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 19, 2012): Recently appointed to the board, Sue Gott’s first AATA board meeting was marked by three action items.

Sue Gott University Planner

Sue Gott takes her seat for the first time at the board table of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

First was the election of a new board treasurer, David Nacht, in the wake of two relatively recent resignations from the board – former board treasurer Sue McCormick and Rich Robben. Nacht was elected treasurer though he was absent from the meeting; however, based on remarks from board chair Jesse Bernstein, Nacht had agreed in advance to serve in that capacity.

The board also formally received the report from a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area. The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.

Both the resolution to receive the report, as well as  remarks at the board table during the meeting, made clear that the AATA board isn’t committing to an unconditional acceptance of every recommendation made by the task force. Rather, the task force’s recommendations will inform the board’s decision-making.

Also related to possible countywide expansion, at the April 16 meeting, the announcement was made of a special board meeting set for Thursday, April 26 at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway. The purpose of the meeting will be for the board to vote on adoption of a five-year service plan. The plan would be part of a proposal that is eventually put before the general electorate, who must ratify whatever funding plan is used for an expanded transportation authority.

AATA CEO Michael Ford indicated that the working name for the new transportation authority, if one is formed through the four-party agreement, is “Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority.”

The board also made a decision on an unarmed security guard contract that was impacted by the AATA’s adoption of a living wage standard. The hourly wages in the contract now meet the city of Ann Arbor living wage standard, adopted by the AATA board at its June 16, 2011 meeting. The need to bring the wages up to the living wage standard resulted in an increase that met the threshold requiring the board to approve it.

The board also received its usual range of updates and reports from its CEO and committees. Those included recent ridership numbers, an update on the lawsuit that was filed last year against the AATA over advertising issues, the proposed north-south commuter rail known as WALLY, and the AATA’s response to the auditor’s report.

During the meeting, Ford reported on discussions between AATA and the Ann Arbor Public Schools that have led to a preliminary agreement to replace three high school bus routes with existing AATA service – one route each for Huron, Pioneer and Skyline high schools. According to Ford, the change would allow AAPS and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District – which currently handles bus services for AAPS – to eliminate three buses and reduce costs. [Full Story]

AATA Gets WALLY Update

At its April 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board received a written report in its board packet with a eight-page update on the status of WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway), 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 ($50,000) already included in the FY 2012 budget that are designated for the WALLY project. The report includes a draft resolution that the board could use to authorize the funds.

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 … [Full Story]

AATA on WALLY Rail: Forward with Caution

At its Sept. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board passed a resolution that expresses general support for the idea of continuing to work with surrounding communities to move forward with the Washtenaw and Livingston Line (WALLY) project. WALLY would provide commuter rail service on a 26-mile route between Ann Arbor and Howell. Relevant entities identified in the resolution include the state of Michigan, Livingston County, the city of Howell and the Ann Arbor Railroad.

However, the one “resolved” clause requires that funds allocated for WALLY in the 2012 budget ($50,000) cannot be spent, except with the explicit consent of the AATA board.

At the meeting, the board received a status report on the WALLY project from Michael Benham, a special assistant for strategic planning at AATA. Benham was hired in 2009 to handle the WALLY project. Since then, he’s become responsible for directing the development of the countywide transit master plan, which the AATA has developed over the course of the last year.

Highlights from Benham’s report included the fact that starting in 2008, AATA has spent a total of $102,853 on the WALLY project, while other partners have spent a total of $225,000. That money has been spent primarily on a study and public education efforts. As a part of the AATA FY 2012 budget, the AATA has included another $50,000 for the project, which requires the explicit approval of the board before it is spent. That money would be put towards station design.

Benham’s report identifies $16 million already invested by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation in track improvements, with $19 million worth of work still needed. Another $6 million in optional capital improvements is also identified.

Benham’s report projects that after the necessary capital improvements are completed to operate the commuter service, annual operating costs would amount to $5.4 million. Fares would be expected to cover $2.1 million of that, with another $1.4 million coming from the state’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund. That would leave another $1.9 million of local funding still to be identified.

[.pdf of WALLY status report (to reduce file size, does not include scans of letters of support)]

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] [Full Story]

AATA Targets Specific Short-Term Strategies

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 10, 2010): The AATA is currently engaged in a public outreach process to gauge the consensus view of what kind of public transportation county residents would like to see in 30 years. The process is due to culminate early next year with the creation of a transportation master plan (TMP).


AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein at the board's four-hour retreat held on Aug. 10 at Weber's Inn. He was, at the time, stressing the importance of setting some kind of time frame for progress on the WALLY north-south commuter rail project. (Photos by the writer.)

But at a special board meeting and retreat held on Tuesday at Weber’s Inn on Jackson Road, the board discussed a variety of specific strategic initiatives that have a somewhat shorter time frame for implementation.

In a four-hour session stretching from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the board discussed and passed resolutions aimed to improve transportation between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, to the University of Michigan East Medical Center, and between the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Ann Arbor.

In addition, the board authorized a lowering of the fare for the express commuter service between Canton and Ann Arbor. That fare change includes a decision to move the service in-house, instead of contracting the service out to Indian Trails. A similar change was made earlier this year for the Chelsea-Ann Arbor express bus service. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA on Chelsea Bus: Cut Fares, Add Wifi"]

Two resolutions that were not moved or voted on by the board – but which received animated discussion – involved the possible provision of vanpool services in the county by the AATA and the future of the Washtenaw-Livingston Line (WALLY) rail project.

In the area of capital improvements, the board also authorized a contract with DLZ Michigan to address a variety of infrastructure projects at the AATA headquarters on South Industrial Highway: installation and in-ground bus hoist; re-landscaping of the detention pond; expansion of the bus storage area; upgrades to the training room. The RFP for the contract also covered a potential park-and-ride lot at Glencoe Crossing Shopping Center on Washtenaw Avenue.

Board chair Jesse Bernstein also announced a Blake Transit Center advisory committee – which will include other community members – to provide input on the redesign and reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor transit center, located on Fourth Avenue south of Liberty. Bernstein will represent the board on the committee.

The various strategic initiatives will need to be explored in the context of the next budget year, which begins Oct. 1. So the board also received a budget overview at Tuesday’s meeting. They’ll sign off on the budget in September. [Full Story]

DDA to Tie $2 Million to Public Process

At their Wednesday morning meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s operations committee decided to recommend to the full board that the DDA pay the city of Ann Arbor $2 million. The payment is not legally required of the DDA under terms of an existing parking agreement that was struck in 2005.

A draft of the resolution with the recommendation was to be sent to all board members for review late Wednesday. If the full DDA board approves the resolution at its next meeting on May 5, city councilmembers who are up for re-election this year may not have to campaign under the shadow of police and firefighter layoffs. The $2 million from the DDA would allow the city council some flexibility in amending the FY 2011 city budget, before it is adopted at the council’s second meeting in May. That budget was formally introduced at the council’s April 19 meeting and showed a roughly $1.5 million deficit. It also included some police and firefighter layoffs.

But how much of the $2 million will be put towards avoiding layoffs versus offsetting the deficit is far from clear. Two city councilmembers attended the DDA operations committee meeting: Sandi Smith, who also serves on the DDA board; and Margie Teall, who serves on the council’s sub-committee appointed for the purpose of renegotiating the parking agreement between the city and the DDA. Last year, the city council and the DDA board each appointed a committee for the purpose of renegotiating that agreement.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Smith said it was not certain whether layoffs could be avoided with the $2 million payment or if so, how many could be avoided. Smith’s contention that there was no guarantee the $2 million would avert layoffs came in response to one of several sharp questions put to his fellow DDA board members by Newcombe Clark. Clark began the discussion by asking if the $2 million was tied to anything.

In the course of the discussion, it was made clear that the $2 million would be tied neither to a promise of no layoffs at the city, nor made contingent in any way on specific progress towards a renegotiation of the parking agreement between the DDA and the city.  It would also not be tied to the implementation of any part of a “term sheet” that will form the basis of the city-DDA discussions in the coming months.

Key aspects of that “term sheet” are the idea that regular payments will be made to the city, that the DDA will assume some responsibility for parking enforcement, and that the city will be “held harmless” in any revenue loss associated with cessation of its enforcement activities.

But by the end of the discussion, Clark had eked out a victory of sorts: a provision in the draft resolution that ties the $2 million to a public process, from this point forward, for the city-DDA negotiations. They have been going on a few months now out of public view. In that regard, the resolution can be fairly be analyzed as a fresh commitment to the committee structure, with its associated expectations of public process, that the two bodies had already adopted, but not implemented for discussing the parking agreement. [Full Story]

Transit Forum Critiques Fuller Road Station

Chris Leinberger was blunt in his assessment of the proposed Fuller Road Station: If the parking structure is built as proposed, in 20 years it will be torn down.

Fuller Road parking lot

The city-owned Fuller Road parking lot, site of the proposed Fuller Road Station. To the south of the lot is the University of Michigan medical complex. (Photos by the writer.)

Speaking at a forum on transit-oriented development, Leinberger – a University of Michigan professor of practice in urban planning – said current plans for the joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project do a good job of incorporating different kinds of transit, from bikes and buses to perhaps, eventually, commuter rail.

But Leinberger criticized the project for taking some of Ann Arbor’s most valuable land and turning it into something that won’t generate revenue for the city. He told Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, that “whoever’s in your position 20 years from now will tear it down.”

Monday’s forum, held at the UM Art & Architecture building on north campus, was organized by members of the WALLY Coalition and the 208 Group, among others, to focus on local transit-oriented development efforts. Moderated by local developer Peter Allen, the event included presentations by Cooper, Richard Murphy of the city of Ypsilanti and Shea Charles, Howell’s city manager. [Full Story]

AATA Board to Mull Fare Increases

AATA Board (Dec. 17, 2008) Although the Ann Arbor Transportation Area board last month transitioned to a meeting format in which “there will not be discussion surrounding committee reports,” board member Ted Annis still gave the public what he calls the “headline news” from the planning and development committee, which he chairs. That included study of possible base fare increases over the next two years, first from $1 to $1.25 and then from $1.25 to $1.50. The possibility of completely eliminating fares for people with disabilities and for those over 65 years old is also being considered. Any changes will be preceded by public hearings with a board decision expected in April 2009.

In other board business, a bylaws change was passed to allow for public comment at the beginning of board meetings on any of the board’s agenda items. Board chair David Nacht described it as “an opportunity to make a pitch in advance of our actions,” and said that he thought it was “a really good idea.” A time limit of two minutes per individual will apply to the commentary at the beginning of the meetings. A time for public comment on any topic will still be available at the end of meetings. [Full Story]

Meeting Watch: AATA (15 Oct 2008)

At the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting on Wednesday night, more support was heard from many different quarters for the formation of an authority that would run WALLY – the proposed north-south commuter rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor – and for AATA to take the lead in forming that authority. [Full Story]

Meeting Watch: AATA (17 Sept 2008)

It was hard to find any bad news at the AATA board meeting held Wednesday night – unless it was the misfortune of board chair, David Nacht, being forced to call time on Tom Partridge’s public speaking turn just as Partridge was favorably comparing Nacht’s education and intellect to that of Governor Granholm’s. Even though with each agenda item, Nacht probed for signs of trouble, he was met time and again with positive reports: on ridership, on the fiscal year 2009 operating budget, on the fuel budget, and on his fellow board members’ willingness to take a small step towards helping make WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Line) a reality. [Full Story]

Track Straightening Work on Ann Arbor Railroad

Let's get this straight: this is the Ann Arbor Railroad

Let's get this straight. Ann Arbor Railroad track gets measured out for straightening work next week.

“Left, a skosh!” the guy behind the transit radioed his colleagues about a half mile away along the rails. He was sighting northward up the track from where it crosses Traver Road up to Barton Drive. The guys up the track were almost as invisible to the naked eye in real life as they are in The Chronicle’s photo accompanying this story.

The late morning temperatures were in the low 70s, but without a cloud in the sky, … [Full Story]