Ann Arbor might lose access to the funding required to move to the next phase of the building of a new Amtrak station.
Though Ann Arbor officials have been trying for months to expedite the Amtrak process, they have yet to obtain the sign off on an environmental assessment from the Federal Railroad Administration required to continue the process. Officials are concerned the approval will come after the expiration of the federal grant funds allocated toward the project.
“Because we haven't gotten that draft document done, we can't start the process of doing preliminary engineering, so we haven't expended any additional funds that (the Ann Arbor City Council) has approved for that consultant agreement,” said City Administrator Howard Lazarus at a City Council meeting last week.
The FRA is expected to have the environmental assessment report completed this summer. A 30-day review period will follow. If completed on time, the federal grant funding, which was awarded in 2011 and expires Sept. 30, will still be available to the city. In an interview with MLive, FRA spokeswoman Desiree French said the organization is still working closely with the city to help it meet the funding deadline.
"Public release of the draft (environmental assessment) is still planned for this summer and will be an opportunity to obtain agency and public comment on the environmental analysis and the project," French said.
As soon as the assessment is done, preliminary design and engineering will be completed by Neumann/Smith Architecture, as voted on by City Council in January. The design and engineering is expected to cost $2.37 million, of which Neumann/Smith will get $2.14 million. With unallocated funding taken into account, the total cost of the project is expected to be nearly $2.5 million.
Of the total cost, $2 million was expected to be reimbursed by the federal grant. Grant-funded work was expected to be completed by the end of March, allowing ample cushion time before its expiration date. Now, with the grant-funded work, there is a chance that the federal funding would be returned to the U.S. Treasury. The FRA cannot extend the expiration date, as it was a condition of the agreement.