Posts Tagged ‘Ann Arbor’

Ann Arbor Station Drawings Released

September 7, 2018

Drawings of the proposed new $86 million Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have been released.

Made by an architecture firm, the drawings show a pitched-roof train station elevated above the tracks and having an elevated walkway to East Medical Center Drive for University of Michigan hospital employees and visitors.

A five-level parking deck will be constructed on the eastern half of what’s now a city-owned parking lot along the south side of Fuller Road in Fuller Park.

The western half of the parking lot would remain surface parking.

The outer appearance of the parking deck would be a combination of brick, vertical metal panels and tempered glass, with a dedicated bus entry/exit off Fuller Road and a separate station parking entry/exit off Fuller Road, and a walk-in bus/bike station.

Ann Arbor has been discussing for several years building a new station to replace a smaller facility built by Amtrak in 1983.

The facility still needs approval of the Federal Railroad Administration and Ann Arbor voters.

FRA Wants More Info on Ann Arbor Station Proposal

May 3, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration continues to press Ann Arbor, Michigan, officials for further information about its proposed new Amtrak station.

The FRA has asked the city to provide justification and support for the project, including the size of the station and parking garage to be built in Fuller Park, and the costs, which are now estimated at $86.2 million.

The FRA needs to approve the station design before the city can move ahead on building it.

City Administrator Howard Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council he has earmarked $69,200 from his contingency budget for continued work on the project, saying the funding is needed to support additional archeological survey work required by the FRA.

“The requirement stems from changes in staff at FRA, which city staff could not have foreseen,” Lazarus said. “Although no council action is required at this time, I am providing notification so that complete transparency on this project is maintained.”

Amtrak currently serves Ann Arbor from a station it built years ago on Depot Street. That facility is too small.

Based on long-term ridership projections, a new station would need to be 8,494 square feet to meet Amtrak guidelines. The existing station is 3,206 square feet.

In a draft environmental assessment report released last September the city identified a site in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital as its site for a new station.

A revised environmental assessment was sent to the FRA in late March, which prompted the request by the agency for more information.

The agency also asked why the proposed parking garage, storage lockers and a cafe are necessary because they will increase the station size.

The FRA also wanted to know what the city planned to do with the existing Amtrak station.

“This section is light on analysis; physical views are described, but both FRA staff and the public felt the discussion lacked analytic details to support the arguments presented. This is a theme in public comments,” the FRA said in requesting additional information.

Ann Arbor officials are hoping that the new depot will be funded largely by federal government and other sources.

Ann Arbor Sets New Schedule for Station Study

June 24, 2017

Although Ann Arbor officials have already missed one of their self-imposed deadlines, they continue to insist that there is still time to finish an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station by late July.

That report will narrow three potential sites for the new depot to one.

Last month Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the goal was to have the assessment ready for public release by June 19.

That didn’t happen but Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council this week that staff has made progress on the report and is working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation to get it finished as soon as possible.

Among the locations being reviewed for the new station are the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a location in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital and the former Michigan Central station on Depot Street that now houses the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

Lazarus said city staff and AECOM, a consultant helping the city prepare the environmental assessment report, have completed various revisions and are expected to have a complete draft ready to send to the FRA shortly after June 22.

“FRA will complete their review of the resubmitted and revised documents and schedule a call with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office,” Lazarus wrote in a memo to the council. “MISHPO has the authority to make determinations on the implications of the proposed design alternatives on historic resources. The current draft documents reflect the current state of consideration recognizing specific detail regarding impacts on historic resources.”

The FRA review of the assessment is expected to take a couple of weeks.

“Once the FRA management signs off on the document, the materials are ready for public review,” he wrote in the council memo.

The environmental assessment will be made available on a project website, at city hall and during three public meetings.

Ann Arbor is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to use a federal grant to pay for preliminary engineering designs. Any money not spent by that date will revert back to the federal treasury.

Lazarus said the preliminary engineering work began on May 22.

City officials hope to begin a 30-day public comment period about the environmental assessment on July 30 with public meetings held in August.

The preliminary engineering work would continue into December.

Lazarus said the city, MDOT and the FRA have agreed to a “tapered match” approach for having federal funds cover all of the costs of ongoing work through the grant-funding period, after which the city will spend more local dollars to complete the remaining work.

That anticipates that 80 percent of the work will be federally funded and 20 percent locally funded.

After the FRA has approved a plan for a new station, Ann Arbor officials will put the project to a vote in an election. The city plans to seek federal funds to cover  most of the costs for final design and construction.

 

Ann Arbor to Continue Station Studies

June 13, 2017

The Ann Arbor City Council will stay with the process of creating a new Amtrak station at least for a little while longer.

The council this week voted 8-3 to provide additional funding to a consultant to finish an environmental assessment and to move forward with preliminary engineering designs for multiple possible sites.

The council acted after the Federal Railroad Administration sought additional information and analysis of different alternatives.

Speaking in favor of continuing the process, Mayor Christopher Taylor said Ann Arbor demands better rail service.

“Better rail service for the city of Ann Arbor is critical to our economic improvement, to our quality-of-life improvement, to our environmental improvement,” Taylor said. “It is part of, I believe, the vision for the future of Ann Arbor that is shared by residents everywhere.”

But in voting against the proposal, council member Jane Lumm was skeptical that the city could meet its ambitious target dates for study and design work.

The city faces a late September deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received in 2011.

The council’s latest action authorizes spending another $137,026 for the study and design work, which will now total $1,088,700 and must be completed before the federal grant expires on Sept. 30.

The city has yet to decide on a site for the new station. Among the proposals have been building a new depot off Depot Street or Fuller Road. Three other locations are still under consideration, including the existing Amtrak site on Depot Street, part of Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital, and the former Michigan Central station, which is now the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

When asked why the city was doing preliminary engineering work for all the different alternatives as opposed to one preferred option, City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the FRA believes that Ann Arbor doesn’t “have a clear winner.”

The new station selection process has been dragging on for more than a decade, a point brought up by the dissenting council members.

Lazarus recommended moving ahead with the environmental assessment and releasing it to the public for a 30-day review.

The city would then seek a “finding of no significant impact” declaration from the FRA for a preferred option for a new Amtrak station.

At that point, he said the city would have a finished document that would be “non-perishable” and could be used to position the city for future FRA funding for final design and construction.

Lazarus and Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, said Ann Arbor remains at the mercy of the FRA.

Cooper said there have been private communications with the FRA over the past few years, but he was not at liberty to share that information publicly.

The grant was actually awarded to the Michigan Department of Transportation which along with the FRA has specific processes with regard to freedom of information.

Both agencies have told the city that they don’t want draft materials being released to the public.

However, Cooper said no final decision has been made about where a new train station should be built.

He said city staff, MDOT and the FRA look forward to receiving public views on the environmental assessment once the FRA authorizes its release.

Lazarus said that if the council failed to approve spending another $130,000, “we’re going to have to put a fork in it [station project] because it’s done.”

FRA Not Expected to Complete Review of Ann Arbor Station Site Assessment Until Summer

March 25, 2017

The Federal Railroad administration has acknowledged that it is likely to be summer before it completes a review of a draft environmental assessment report pertaining to a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Once that is completed, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Only then will the design and engineering work for the new station begin. That’s a problem for Ann Arbor because the city is set to lose a federal grant if it isn’t used by Sept. 30.

The question city officials are grappling with is whether there will be enough time to use the federal funds for station design.

An FRA spokeswoman, Desiree French, told the Ann Arbor News/Mlive.com that the federal grant will be available for use after its expiration date.

It will be the city’s responsibility to complete preliminary engineering and National Environmental Policy Act compliance work. That will mean paying for it out the city’s own pocket.

“We’re working very closely with them to help them meet that sunset date,” French said.

The Ann Arbor City Council in January approved a contract with Neumann/Smith Architecture to conduct the design and engineering work once the environmental assessment has cleared all of its hurdles.

Officials estimate that the preliminary design and engineering is $2.37 million with another unallocated contingency of $101,131 making the total cost nearly $2.5 million.

Ann Arbor had expected $2 million of that to be covered by federal funding awarded to the city in 2011 and accepted in 2012.

The city had hoped to have the preliminary design and engineering work completed by May 31, which it figured to be enough time for the FRA to review it before the grant expires.

French said the Sept. 30 expiration date is part of the authorizing legislation that approved the funding and the FRA has no authority to extend it.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, said he was expecting the FRA review of the environmental assessment to be completed much sooner.

“Summer sure sounds like a lot more time than what information I’m working on,” he said. “The implications on the schedule, as it relates to the grant, is also something that is of interest to me and the city.”

French said the FRA is working with the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation to prepare a draft environmental assessment that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Although Ann Arbor had submitted a draft  environmental assessment to the FRA in December, it sent a revised and more complete document to the agency in February.

At the time, the city expected the FRA would complete its review of it in 30 days. But that now appears unlikely to occur absent some change of heart at the FRA.

The FRA awarded MDOT a $2.8 million grant 2011 that was originally expected to help Ann Arbor plan for a new Amtrak station on Fuller Road in a city-owned parking lot near the University of Michigan Hospital.

But planning for that site was disrupted in 2012 when the FRA asked the city to consider other potential station sites and funding assumptions for the project changed.

The Fuller Road site is still under consideration, but city officials have said they also are looking at sites on Depot Street, where the current Amtrak station is located.

French said the FRA has encouraged the city to advance the preliminary engineering and NEPA compliance tasks simultaneously.

“It was the city’s decision to wait until NEPA and an alternative is selected to complete preliminary engineering,” she said.

Ann Arbor officials have declined thus far to say which site they prefer and the FRA won’t comment on sites, either.

“It would be premature for the FRA to comment on a preferred location for the station until completion of the NEPA process,” French said.

Ann Arbor Station Project Delayed by FRA

March 22, 2017

The clock is starting to tick louder in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the city is racing against a deadline to spend a federal grant to develop a new Amtrak station.

But the city has yet to get the Federal Railroad Administration to approve a draft environmental assessment, which it needs to get done before preliminary station design can begin.

The draft has been at the FRA since December but the agency has yet to act on it.

The Ann Arbor City Council in January approved a $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith Architecture for preliminary design and engineering services.

But the consultants can’t do much until the FRA signs off on the draft.

The draft report identifies a preferred location for the new station and a 30-day public review period is expected to follow the release of the report.

City officials have declined for months to say what site they prefer for the station.

One proposal is to build the station in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital while other sites are being considered along Depot Street, where the current station is located.

City officials told the city council this week that they are working with several parties to try to prod the FRA to move along its review process due to the looming deadline to spend the grant money.

One of those parties is U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents Ann Arbor.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, said a revised draft was sent to the FRA in early February when the FRA said the review would be completed in 30 days.

But last week, the FRA told the city the review has been delayed and did not indicate for how long although Cooper said, “I would expect their review comments, if any, imminently.”

Cooper said the city will release to the public the environmental assessment identifying the preferred station location once the FRA authorizes its release.

MDOT to Seek Proposals for Feasibility Study of Ann Arbor-Traverse City Rail Passenger Service

February 11, 2017

A request for proposals to evaluate intercity railroad passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City has been issued by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MichiganKnown as the A2TC Train, the service is specified in MDOT’s 2011 Michigan State Rail Plan, which called for service to the northern part of the state.

The feasibility study will cost $160,000 of which half comes from a federal transportation planning grant. The other half will be split between the state and local agencies.

The not-for-profit Traverse City Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities led the drive to raise the local matching funds for the study.

Work on the study is expected to get underway in May.

MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said in a statement that demand for passenger rail service is “increasing because of high energy costs and increased congestion of highways and air travel.”

The A2TC route would serve Petoskey, Cadillac, Mt. Pleasant, Alma, Owosso, Durand, Howell and Ann Arbor.

It would connect with Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit corridor at Ann Arbor.

The feasibility study is established to take nine months, but some officials are hoping it will be completed by November.

Ann Arbor City Council Approves Funds for New Amtrak Station Design and Engineering Work

January 19, 2017

The Ann Arbor (Michigan) City Council this week approved a contract with a consultant to begin design and engineering work for a new Amtrak station, but not before city officials had to defend the need for the new facility.

michiganBy an 8-3 vote, the council agreed to pay for the work, but not before some questioned the need for the station, saying that Amtrak ridership in Ann Arbor has been falling for the past three years.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, acknowledged the ridership decline, but said in any event a new station is needed because of the crowded conditions at the existing station and its poor condition.

“I would invite council members, members of the community, to come out and experience the existing Ann Arbor Amtrak station during periods of heavy use,” Cooper said. “The waiting room is substandard for the complement of passengers boarding trains today. This is based on the current ridership.”

Amtrak opened the existing modular station in 1983. When Amtrak began service in 1971, it served Ann Arbor through the former Michigan Central passenger station.

But it was squeezed out of that facility, which is today a privately owned restaurant known as the Gandy Dancer.

A new Amtrak station is projected to cost more than $2 million with 80 percent of that cost being picked up by a federal grant.

But the station project has drawn the ire of some council members because it is behind schedule and over budget.

The city has yet to settle on a site for the new depot, which could be built near the existing station on Depot Street or in Fuller Park.

Voting against spending money for the design and engineering work were Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.

“This is a project that’s been consistently behind schedule and over budget,” Lumm said. “I’m not sure what makes us think that won’t continue. A good portion of the local dollars already invested are gone, and I fear, wasted. And we sit here tonight being asked to commit another $500,000 of taxpayer money.”

Lumm noted that the city faces a deadline to get the station completed before the federal grant expires.

“But because of the delays along the way, the clock is running out on the grant funding, so we’re now being asked to scramble and dive in to the next phase immediately,” she said. “That’s just not how we should be doing things.”

Cooper admitted that ridership projections that were calculated in 2014 may be overly optimistic.

One projection was that Ann Arbor would be handling nearly 1.4 million rail passengers in 2025. That would include Amtrak patronage of 969,000 and 516.000 for a still-to-be-funded commuter rail service to Detroit. It was also based on Amtrak service increasing from three to 10 roundtrips a day between Chicago and Detroit.

In Amtrak’s fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, it handled 122,534 passengers, an 18 percent drop from ridership of three years earlier.

“The anticipated commuter service and the forecast and projection for future growth in both rail ridership and use at this station are, if you will, perhaps not well founded, but the need for the initial investment is in order to remedy the defects of the current station,” Cooper said.

Amtrak and state transportation officials have said that falling gasoline prices have cut into Amtrak ridership in Michigan.

Another factor was that during summer and fall of 2016 track work between Battle Creek and Jackson cut the level of service.

The work sponsored by Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation affected 41 miles of track and involved replacing 26,000 railroad ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 railroad grade crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Amtrak also upgraded its signal system east of Kalamazoo. The work was originally scheduled to be completed in September but did not end until November.

The State of Michigan owns most of the route between Kalamazoo and Deaborn while Amtrak owns the route between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The work was conducted as part of the Michigan Accelerated Rail Program with state officials saying that passengers will benefit from improved reliability, a smoother ride and the first 110-mph Amtrak service in the Midwest.

Ann Arbor Poised to Pay for Preliminary Design, Engineering Work for New Amtrak Station

January 18, 2017

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council is poised to approve a $2.14 million contract for preliminary design and engineering work on a new Amtrak station.

michiganThe council was to vote on the contact despite the Federal Railroad Administration not yet having approved a preferred location for the station.

City officials have narrowed the sites to Depot Street, on which the current Amtrak station is located, or in Fuller Park.

The design and engineering work contract would be with Neumann/Smith Architecture

Officials have said they want to be able to move quickly once the FRA acts and an environmental review is completed.

Efforts to construct a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor have been ongoing for more than a decade.

The estimated total cost of preliminary design and engineering is $2.37 million, which includes the $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith and a city staff budget of $234,884.

Another $101,131 that has yet to be allocated will be kept in the project budget if needed to complete the environmental review phase or the preliminary design and engineering work.

“If the entire amount of the Neumann/Smith contract and the contingency is necessary to complete the project, the total cost would be $2,471,325.67,” said Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager in a memo to the council.

Cooper noted that the city could be reimbursed by the federal government for up to 80 percent of the project cost. The city would need to put up a 20 percent match.

The city council has already approved spending $342,665 of city funds for the station project but would need to pony up an additional $151,600 from the general fund cash reserves to complete the 20 percent match.

The city has said it will not complete the project without voter approval, a step not expected to be undertaken until 2018 at the earliest.

The city is facing a May 2017 deadline to complete the preliminary engineering and design work. That deadline was set by the terms of the federal grant.

Michigan Officials Reviewing Options After Voters Narrowly Defeated Tax Plan for Commuter Rail

November 27, 2016

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority it examining its options after voters earlier this month narrowly defeated a tax increase that would have funded an expansion of service, including a Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.

SE Michigan RTAWhat is certain, though, is that the earliest that the SMRTA can return to the voters with the same proposal is 2018.

“Obviously we’re just trying to absorb what happened,” said Michael Ford, who leads SMRTA.

The proposal for a 20-year 1.2 mill tax increase passed in Wayne (Detroit) and Washtenaw (Ann Arbor) counties, divided voters fairly evenly in Oakland County but was rejected in Macomb County.

“We’re going to have to reassess, understand why,” Ford said of why people voted against the tax plan, adding he plans to convene with the RTA board, which includes representatives from the different communities, to discuss possible next steps, including whether to plan to put a proposal before voters again in two years.

Ford said he remains optimistic that something can be done to expand public transportation options and still thinks that the proposed plan of commuter rail and new regional bus services is a good one.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said that had the tax been approved it would have given the Detroit-Ann Arbor rail link a critical boost.

“Commuter rail is a necessity for Ann Arbor to improve our local economy and to improve our local quality of life,” he said.

Had the plan been funded by the tax measure, commuter rail was expected to begin in 2022 and used the route now used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.