Ann Arbor Transit Authority breaks ground on new transit center

Adam Glanzman/Daily
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje discusses the new Blake Transit Center at a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday. Buy this photo

By Stephanie Dilworth, For the Daily
Published November 19, 2012

City officials donned in bright orange construction hats gathered on South Fourth Avenue with shovels in hand on Monday morning to signify the start of construction of a new transit center.

The $8.1-million project, funded through state and federal grants, will involve tearing down the existing Blake Transit Center and building a new structure that will better meet the needs of Ann Arbor residents and Ann Arbor Transit Authority users. The project construction is expected to be complete by fall 2013.

A crowd of about 75 Ann Arbor residents and members of the AATA and the Downtown Development Authority gathered outside the center for the groundbreaking ceremony, where they heard from the officials and learned more about the upcoming changes.

AATA CEO Michael Ford said at the event that the renovation is the result of years of planning.

“We began nearly three years ago with an investment for an $8-million facility. We are on the brink of that reality right now,” Ford said. “This groundbreaking is the latest in a series of positive developments for AATA.”

Ford added that the changes to the center are needed to accommodate riders and to update the facility.

“The new Blake Transit Center will provide residents with a modern, clean and visually appealing structure,” Ford said. “The new … center is necessary to meet the projected ridership increases in the very near future.”

According to AATA plans, the new center will be more than twice the size of the current center, making it more spacious for users. While the existing building has only one floor, the new center will have two floors as well as a basement. The upper floor will be designed to give bus drivers a space to relax between routes.

Al Thomas, an AATA staff member, said the new spaces for employees are welcomed.

“I think for myself, personally it’s exciting that this is happening,” Thomas said. “Not only is it expanding a space, it’s giving the drivers and operators a better place to sit back and take a break and eat lunch.”

The new structure will also feature a larger space for a customer service lobby, offices for AATA and getDowntown staff members, additional restrooms, a staff break room and a basement for storage and mechanical equipment.

The transit center will also be moved to the opposite side of the street in order to redirect traffic flow and allow the use of the current transit center as long as possible while the update is constructed.

Additionally, it will include heated sidewalks, which will reduce the use of salt in the winters to melt snow.

The increase in size is largely a response to the uptick in AATA passengers. According to an AATA report, “ridership has increased more than 60 percent since 1987, with more than 5,000 riders arriving and departing daily through the Blake.”

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje agreed in his address to the crowd that the congestion on the AATA has been an issue.

“As new people come to work in our city, we have to have a better way to get them here, and unless we’re able to improve transit we are faced with a future of more and more congestion and air pollution,” Hieftje said.

Hieftje added that he hopes to encourage people visiting Ann Arbor to reduce their use of automobiles by offering improved public transportation systems.

Nancy Shore, the director of Ann Arbor’s getDowntown program, said the Federal Transit Authority granted $2.7 million for the project under specified stipulations.

“The FTA asked for a certain number of disadvantaged enterprises as well as small business to be a part of this project, so we have companies that are smaller businesses that we are working with,” Shore said. “They asked for a portion of the business to be dedicated to public art, so that is something else we are incorporating.”

AATA plans also show the structure will meet U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold Certification sustainable standards as an environmentally friendly building due to its use of durable, low-maintenance materials including recycled material.

The center will aim to accommodate passengers with disabilities, unlike the current transit center, according to AATA board member Jesse Bernstein. An elevator will make the new structure more accessible to those with disabilities, and help make the center compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bernstein added that the AATA hopes to work with University buses to incorporate the two transit systems.

“We have been working more closely with University of Michigan Transit people than ever before,” Bernstein. “We are at a point where we can have some open discussion about sharing, like we did at the Central Campus bus station, where you get AATA and U of M buses. I can see us doing similar things here and bringing students in.”

Ann Arbor resident Roy Mann, one of the few residents at the event, said he came to see what the new building would look like and how it would affect the flow of traffic.

“It does need updating,” Mann said, in reference to the current center. “I think the new transit center is going to work out pretty good. The new design looks great.”