The Federal Rail Administration and city government are moving forward with plans to build Amtrak stations at four potential sites in Ann Arbor, each with varying support from City Council members.
The next step in the planning process is completing an environmental assessment report within the next two months, according to Eli Cooper, transportation program manager for Ann Arbor.
Cooper said the city has sub-contracted environmental specialists and engineers at the technology firm AECOM to gather environmental data, and he expects a draft of the assessment to be underway in October.
Two of the four possible station designs are both at the location of the current Amtrak station on Depot Street. One of the design options is for an elevated station. The other is for a ground level station north of the tracks.
The third possible station design, also located on Depot Street, would replace the Gandy Dancer restaurant, repurposing the building as a train station for the first time in decades. The Gandy Dancer was the location of the original station, before the restaurant existed. The fourth potential location for the new station is the city-owned surface parking lot in Fuller Park.
Councilmembers Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) and Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) have both expressed opposition to building the new station in Fuller Park because it’s technically park land, despite hosting a parking lot for the University of Michigan Health Systems.
Eaton said he’d like to see the Gandy Dancer repurposed as a station due to the building’s beauty.
“The Gandy Dancer is a much nicer building and it would great if we could use that, I just don’t know what the likelihood of that is,” Eaton said.
While many people believe Amtrak is used as a commuter train for University employees, it’s used mostly by travelers, Briere said. Thus, the Fuller location, though close to the University hospital, may not be useful for those who use Amtrak the most.
“Looking at U of M’s employee base — where their zip codes are — they are not concentrated in the east and they are not concentrated in Jackson, to the west,” Briere said. “So, the likelihood that this will meet commuter needs may not be as high as some anticipate.”
A community organization, Protect A2 Parks, has also mobilized against the Fuller location, asking citizens to contact their local council member urging them to push an Amtrak station there.
“If park land is used for transportation purposes, the decision makers must demonstrate that there is no ‘prudent or feasible alternative location,’ ” the website reads. “We believe that the Depot Street location is both prudent and feasible, and that its use will provide the best benefit to the community.”
Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3) said he believes that the Federal Rail Association will recommend the station which is the best option for the community and commuters and did not express a preference.
Cooper and Ackerman also both said they believe the most important thing is that the project continues progressing.
“This is a time of a lot of momentum for a possible commuter rail to Detroit but also investments from Amtrak in the next 15 years for high-speed rails from Detroit to Chicago, with Ann Arbor being a critical stop along the way.” Ackerman said. “We are already the busiest Amtrak station in the state and I think we need to be a leader as we move forward.”