A new Amtrak station may be coming to a University hospital near you.
The city of Ann Arbor released a draft environmental assessment report on Monday detailing options for the new Amtrak station, which has been mired in more than a decade of delays. The report names Fuller Park, near the University of Michigan Hospital, as the preferred location for a new train station and parking facilities.
Jim Kosteva, University director of community relations, predicted that if the Regional Transport Authority’s plan to implement a rigorous Southeastern Michigan commuter rail program succeeds, having a station so close to the hospital would be an immense benefit for the 26,000 employees and 10,000 to 12,000 or more patients and visitors who come to the hospital on a daily basis.
“It’s rare to have that kind of concentration to such close proximity to a potential rail station,” Kosteva said. “Hopefully, that kind of access will provide a good, strong incentive for individuals … to get out of their cars and utilize the convenience of a commuter rail.”
The new station will be elevated above the tracks that run past Fuller Park on the south side of Fuller Road. Fuller Park also contains city-owned parking lot currently lent to the University.
The current Amtrak station is located on Depot Street, which is also named as one of the options for a new station. Although it has been continuously operating since 1983 and boasts the busiest station on the Wolverine Line, the report points out that its capacity is far too small to accommodate current passenger volumes and provide increased rail service.
The Federal Railroad Administration has in the past asked the city to consider the Depot location instead of Fuller Park, but they, along with the Michigan Department of Transportation, have reached a consensus on the latter.
In a 2016 year-in-review letter last year, Mayor Chris Taylor reiterated his longtime support for the Fuller Park station, which he believes is superior to making structural improvements to the existing Depot Street station. Taylor was not immediately available for comment.
“I have previously stated my belief that the Fuller Road location would likely work best,” Taylor wrote last year. “It has more space for necessary parking, better access for the mass transit that will be necessary to move commuters from the station to other areas of the City, and it is right next to the highest employment center and most visited location in the County, the UM Health System.”
The site was chosen for having the lowest projected construction cost among the options, with an estimated cost of $81 million as opposed to the $94 million to $98 million that a Depot Street option warrants. The city assumes 80 percent of the costs will be covered by the federal government while it will pay for the rest.
However, City Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, whose ward encompasses Fuller Park, questioned whether a brand-new station was a good investment for the city. She argued that with the infrastructural upgrades, affordable housing and climate action costs Ann Arbor faces soon, the city simply has no more money to spare and should instead upgrade the existing station on Depot Street.
“People don’t ride the trains because there’s a new train station. … They take the train because the train is convenient,” Kailasapathy said. “So if additional trains are driving in a timely manner, at reasonable rates and at convenient times, I really don’t see the need to spend $81 million on a new train station.”
There is also the issue of voters rejecting the November ballot on the RTA’s master plan. The plan, if approved, would have created numerous transportation improvements that would connect southeastern Michigan to Detroit in a more streamlined way. Another effort to put it on the ballot as early as 2018 is currently underway.
Kosteva also added that while there are numerous benefits to having a station at Fuller Park, there will be the unavoidable problem of traffic congestion and how it can affect patient care at the hospital.
“(Traffic) unquestionably is a worthwhile concern,” Kosteva said. “We are in conversation with the city about how we attempt to plan and look for potential improvements that would manage the use of various traffic demands.”