City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County share first plans for new tunnel, trail

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - 10:21pm

Peter Sanderson speaks to community members about the potential Border-to-Border Trail being proposed by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission at Forsythe Middle School Tuesday night.

Peter Sanderson speaks to community members about the potential Border-to-Border Trail being proposed by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission at Forsythe Middle School Tuesday night. Buy this photo
Asha Lewis/Daily

Ann Arbor residents gathered in Forsythe Middle School’s cafeteria to discuss plans for a tunnel connection between Bandemer Park and Huron River Drive as well as the non-motorized Border-to-Border Trail Tuesday night. The meeting was held by Peter Sanderson, senior park planner for the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Hillary Hanzel, park planner and landscape architect for the city of Ann Arbor.

The purpose of the meeting was to raise community awareness and collect general feedback and input at early stages of project development. The meeting began with a PowerPoint presentation detailing the plans of the tunnel and the Border-to-Border Trail.

Sanderson shared the intention of the trail, emphasizing the importance of community connection.

“The real goal is connecting our communities, connecting people to parks and places together … we’re really connecting some of our large facilities together — we have almost 50 parks in the region,” Sanderson said. “The goal of our project is to create a safe and legal connection.”

The Border-to-Border Trail is part of a larger project, the Iron Belle Trail. The Iron Belle Trail spans over 2,000 miles and connects Detroit to Ironwood, in the upper peninsula. The specific section of the trail in Ann Arbor would pass through Ypsilanti and connect with Dexter.

Sanderson also mentioned the county has teamed up with and received funding from Huron Waterloo Pathways. He believes by getting the approval from the community now, the county can apply for grants sooner.

Hanzel went over the details of the tunnel. She told residents a feasibility study had been done and would be updated for a better estimate for grant funding. The city of Ann Arbor also worked closely with construction companies to create accurate dimensions.

“We were thinking for dimensions: approximately 14 feet wide, 10 feet tall for the interior space,” Hanzel said. “We’d like to have lights on the interior. We’ll hopefully have the budget to improve the exterior.”

Construction may not start until 2020 or 2021. Following the presentation, the room was open for discussion and community members voiced their concerns on the timeline. Ann Arbor resident Kim Hill, who attended the meeting, told The Daily the city should put the issue on their list of priorities.

“I would like them to prioritize it,” Hill said. “It’s something that’s been obvious for years. They studied it back in 2005. They couldn’t get funding, is what they said. So now, you have this feasibility study already, you’re going to update the numbers, just concentrate on getting the money. I’m not worried it won’t happen, just worried it will take a little bit of time — longer than it probably should.”

Many residents were excited about the tunnel and trail. Ypsilanti resident Ashley Fox was especially excited about the trail connecting Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

“I just wanted to strongly endorse this project,” Fox said. “I think it’s a really important one and … I think it’s really important not just that this crossing would be there, but that we would have the path getting there clearer, especially coming from Fuller Road.”

Ann Arbor resident Valerie Shinabarger enjoys biking near the Barton Dam and looks forward to the idea of a bridge — part of the Border-to-Border trail — to help create a safer way to get to the park.

“I like what Peter Sanderson said: ‘It would be the gateway to Ann Arbor,’ because really there’s no way to bike to Dexter right now,” Shinabarger said. “I see people there all the time and I’m really excited to be able to do it safely because with MDOT putting more of these barriers to make people safer, it’s more dangerous because people are still doing it anyway, but now they’re having to jump over things and slide down a hill.”

Sanderson said he was pleased with the meeting, but understood there is always a possibility of opposition.

“I think the crowd seemed generally supportive of the project, but we’ll see what kind of comments we get back,” Sanderson said.