Following four years of research, applications for grants and continuous discussion with the University, the Ann Arbor City Council voted 8-2 in favor to spend $550,000 from the city’s general fund toward preliminary study and planning for a second rail station in Ann Arbor.
The idea for the additional rail station — which will join the current station located on Depot Street — stems from a proposed plan in 2008 between the University and the city to pursue supplementary transportation and parking services. The proposal arose as part of an effort to address the burgeoning need for transit and parking space with the completion of the C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, which opened last year.
The University’s Board of Regents canceled the initial 2009 project, which entailed construction of a parking structure on Wall Street and collaboration with the Fuller Road Intermodal Station project. However, the board revisited the project in April and approved construction plans, which will cost an estimated $34 million.
In addition to the structure, many city officials have expressed support for a second train station, noting it is an important opportunity for growth within the city. Monday’s resolution provides matching funds of $550,000 in conjunction with $2.2 million from the federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program funding for a $2.75 million total.
Council spent considerable time discussing the issue at its meeting Monday night. Councilmembers also listened to several residents speak for and against the resolution in public hearings before the final vote was held, garnering the eight votes necessary to pass. Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward–3) was the only member absent from the meeting.
In the initial stages of discussion, Councilmember Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) argued that moving forward with the rail station after years of discussion would be more effective than continuing to delay the project.
“Although it has been a little bit of a circuitous path to get here, we have the means to make this match now and the goal is equally important to Ann Arbor’s future,” he said. “You can’t have progress without investment.”
Previously, the resolution stated that Ann Arbor residents would vote on moving forward with the train station. Before the resolution was voted on, Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) added an amendment that stipulates that the vote by residents comes after the city’s study is conducted, and would additionally halt progress on the train station if a majority voted no.
She emphasized the need for schematic research to be conducted in order to allow voters to make informed decisions on whether or not a second train station would be justified.
“If we brought forward a notional concept on a vote on should we build a train station any rational person could come back to ‘Where would it be? What will it look like? How big will it be? How much is it going to cost?’” Briere said. “That’s why we don’t go looking today for that vote saying ‘Should we build a train station?’”
Because the residential vote is now contingent on the completion of schematic designs and studies, it will likely be several years before voters see any ballot language on this issue, Taylor said in an interview during an intermission.
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) argued strongly against the resolution, claiming that the money the city would spend is another financial burden toward a project lacking direction.
“In June we were assured in no uncertain terms that the previous cost the city had absorbed related to this project would qualify as the match for this grant and no new city money would be required,” she said. “Well guess what, the past costs don’t qualify and we need to put up another $550,000 of your tax dollars to satisfy their local match.”
She also challenged the speed at which the resolution — which was introduced on Friday — moved through the Council, and said it was too accelerated.
“At some point one concludes it’s time to stop throwing good money after bad or at least hit pause until there’s a plan,” Lumm said. “I believe we are way past that point.”
Lumm noted that accounting for the $550,000 in this resolution, the city will have spent $2.7 million of its total funds toward this project.
Still, Councilmember Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5) posited that residents want to see a second rail station.
“I think the significant consensus out there is that moving forward with investment in high-speed rail are the right to do,” he said.
He addressed concerns raised from a community member that spending the $550,000 would be a “gamble” considering the total cost of the project would be too much for the city. Hohnke countered the concern and said once a final projection is determined, national and state funding would be available to help pay for the station.
During discussion of the resolution, Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor transportation program manager, fielded questions from the Council regarding a second rail station’s feasibility.
Cooper said in an interview during an intermission that the preliminary cost for the project totals $42 million.
“For this particular project since we don’t have a site, these are very conceptual numbers but it gives us a frame of reference,” Cooper said. “Plus or minus 20 to 30 percent, that’s the cost of the project we might expect when we get done with the planning process.”
He noted that even with federal guidance, the expected allocation of the city will be considerable.
“I think for the most part the federal transportation grant funds are 80-20, so 80 percent would be federal,” Cooper said. The remaining 20 percent could also receive funding from MDOT or other organizations, he added.