Two weeks after Ann Arbor’s budget was debated and deliberated on, City Council members reconvened to discuss how the tracks of the city’s future rail would be laid, with all but two council members on board.

Last night, City Council passed a resolution to accept a $3.5 million grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation, which will be used to build a new passenger train station in the city. The details of the new station remain undetermined, but the city has approved a private group to research development of a new station.

The resolution — which came after a failed attempt to build a passenger train station on Fuller Road — was supported by Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and all City Council members except Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) and Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5).

Several Ann Arbor residents, including Ann Arbor resident James D’Amour, spoke before City Council during the public commentary period of the meeting, urging council to reconsider accepting the grant for a new train station.

“It’s premature and reckless for council to make this commitment without further thought,” D’Amour said.

The MDOT grant will provide the city with $2.8 million from the federally funded High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program to research a new passenger train station. An additional $701,600 of funds must come from the city.

At the May 21 city council meeting that lasted until 1 a.m., $307,781 of the city’s budget was reserved to help cover the city’s funding of a new station.

Also during the May 21 meeting, the council approved a grant for $196,192 going to architectural firm SmithGroupJJR in order to continue research on how a successful new passenger rail station in Ann Arbor can be achieved.

Lumm, however, said she couldn’t support the grant.

“I, for one, will not sign a blank check. I think there is far too much that remains unknown about the future of a rail station,” Lumm said. “There’s just too much uncertainty, and there has been from the get-go.”

Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5) said he didn’t understand the hesitation with the grant.

“This is certainly the longest we’ve ever discussed accepting a grant,” Hohnke said. “Given that no additional local dollars are required for this, that there’s no obligation beyond the current deliverable embedded in this grant and that it preserves some significant options going forward, it’s not clear to me why we would not accept these funds from the federal government.”

Hohnke added that council should be wary of how Troy City Council recently rejected federal funds in a similar situation.

“We have to be careful to learn the lesson of our friends in Troy, where the local people are pressuring the council into rejecting similar funds … the national consensus view was that it was ‘cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face,’ ” Hohnke said. “I can’t imagine why one wouldn’t support this.”

Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) said he was also in favor of the grant.

“The introduction of a viable rail station in Ann Arbor that will serve our transportation need in the future … is critical,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he still thinks the Fuller Road area would be the ideal spot for a station.

“The location of the prior project and based upon all the information — the real, the solid and good information that we’ve received to date — would suggest it would be the best location for a final project is not, as some of you call it, a ‘wonderland.’ … it is a parking lot and has been so since 1993,” Taylor said. “No child has played on there since the Clinton administration.”

Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) expressed that she also supports the grant and said that SmithGroupJJR should be allowed to continue research.

“I think it’s vital that we support these studies, and the report that comes back will enable us to actually know what we’re talking about when we have discussion about the sites,” Teall said.

Hieftje explained that a major misconception about accepting a grant he often notices is that accepting would commit money the city uses for other services.

“Will accepting this grant in any way compromise in any way our ability to pay for essential services like police and fire?” Hieftje asked City Administrator Steve Powers during the meeting.

“No,” Powers replied.

“Pretty simple answer,” Hieftje said.

Hieftje said he views planning and building a new station as a top priority for Ann Arbor.

“If we’re going to further our economy, we’re going to need transit, and I can’t think of a better way to bring workers to Ann Arbor than on a train (or) a more environmentally-friendly way to do that than having a robust rail system,” Hieftje said. “And as we’ve all heard, the current station we have is not going to sustain that.”

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