After discussing the implementation of a second rail station at the Ann Arbor City Council meeting on Tuesday, councilmembers considered a program that would improve transit within the city, particularly within the University.

Last week, members of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority approved $30,000 for the second phase of the Ann Arbor Connector study. The Ann Arbor Connector Project began in 2009 to examine the possibility of increased busing and other forms of city transit. The first portion concluded that more service was necessary throughout the city — including along the North Campus, Medical Campus and Central Campus routes, downtown Ann Arbor and to Briarwood Mall.

The second phase of the study will investigate how to increase busing efficiency along these routes and the funding will come from parking structure profits, taxes and parking violation fines.

While a City Council resolution allotting $30,000 to this project originally failed to pass on Monday night by a one-vote margin, the Council revisited the vote and Councilmember Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4) changed her vote. This brought the total vote count to 8-2 in favor of the study, with Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) and Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) dissenting.

Lumm was a heavy critic of devoting funds to projects without more specific plans in place, expressing similar sentiments on a rail station earlier in the meeting.

“These are all major multi-million dollar initiatives, hundreds of millions in upfront capital cost and tens of millions in incremental operating costs, and we continue to proceed (investing local taxpayer dollars) in studies without a strategy or establishing priorities,” she said.

However, Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) argued the federal money that would accompany the council’s allotment — which totals $1.2 million — far outweighs the city’s cost of $30,000.

“1.2 million dollars of federal money: that is a ratio that I’m very willing to support for information that is deeply important to Ann Arbor’s future,” Taylor said.

The University has also contributed $150,000 toward the second phase of the study, since many of the investigated transit options would positively impact the University. This contribution — along with funds from AATA, the DDA and possibly the city — will fund the local match to leverage a $1.2 million federal grant.

Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, wrote in an e-mail interview that the first phase of the analysis found there are about 35,000 passenger trips made each day between the Central and Medical campuses to North Campus, demonstrating the need for increased transit options.

“The potential exists to enhance transportation service and destination connections for the campus and community alike,” Kosteva wrote. “This second phase of analysis will help focus on the best technology prospects and potential routes by which this might be accomplished.”

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje — who sits on the DDA board along with City Councilmember Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1) — said in an interview that the study is vital to improving Ann Arbor’s transit system and ensuring that the city remains environmentally focused.
“I’ve been pushing for enhanced and better transit ever since I got into office and we’ve made a lot of progress,” Hieftje said. “But I think we need to do more … our job base continues to grow. There are going to be 1,000 to 1,500 new jobs in Ann Arbor each year and if we don’t work on the transit, people will be driving their cars into town and we’ll have to build more parking structures.”

Hieftje said if the study produces a project in the future, the benefit would extend to all city residents, not just those affiliated with the University.

“Underclassmen won’t be here when this gets built,” Hieftje said. “…but certainly future students and the whole city as a whole will benefit if this happens.”

Hieftje added that he is not concerned that the Council may ultimately choose to deny the funds.

“There may be another way to find the funding,” Hieftje said. “Could be a local group, the AATA could fund more or the U of M.”

He added that if the city decides to pursue a transit project from the study’s results, the project would have an 80 percent match rate from the Michigan government. However, he said the first goal would be to see what kind of improvement, if any, is necessary.

“We won’t know if that will work or not unless we take this next step,” Hieftje said.

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