Posts Tagged ‘Ann Arbor Amtrak station’

Ann Arbor Park Commission Favors Putting New Amtrak Station, Parking Garage in Fuller Park

October 19, 2017

An advisory committee has accepted an environmental study favoring building a new Amtrak station in a park in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Despite some opposition, the Park Advisory Commission voted 6-2 in favor of agreeing that the use of Fuller Park for the station would result in a minimal impact on the park.

The environmental assessment was conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and favors putting the station in Fuller Park rather than building along Depot Street.

The commission serves as an advisory body to the Ann Arbor City Council.

The FRA had made a preliminary determination that there would be minimal effect on the park from building a new Amtrak station elevated above the railroad tracks and an adjacent parking garage.

The station site would be in the footprint of an existing parking lot in the park along the south side of Fuller Road in front of the University of Michigan hospital.

The city council must now concur that building the station would have a minimal effect on the park.

City officials have said that 3.2 acres (5.4 percent) of Fuller Park would experience permanent impacts from construction associated with the station.

Several members of a grassroots citizens group called Protect A2 Parks argued against the minimal effect designation and in favor of locating the new station along Depot Street, where the current Amtrak station is located.

Protect A2 Parks member Rita Mitchell said a Depot Street site would be more likely to favor improved transit and train travel.

Mitchell also contended that a parking garage in the park would be unsightly.

Citing the parks master plan, Mitchell said there are just 4.53 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents in the central area of the city compared to a rate of 18.52 citywide.

Nancy Shiffler and James D’Amour of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club said using park property for a transportation facility sets a bad precedent.

“Fuller Park is an essential river-valley park providing some of the remaining open viewshed to the valley. There is no way to replace this value,” Shiffler said.

D’Amour, a former city planning commissioner, expressed fear that there could be more proposals to repurpose city parkland. He called for protection of parkland for future generations.

Vince Caruso, another member of Protect A2 Parks, said a station in Fuller Park would be too far away from Ann Arbor’s activity centers.

He said a Depot Street location would be more walkable to downtown. He also said placing the station in Fuller Park would restrict economic development around the station.

“So if we wanted shops — coffee shops, stores, small shops in the vicinity of the station like you normally would see — Fuller doesn’t really allow that,” he said.

Parks Commission member Alan Jackson, who voted in favor of the resolution, said he suspects if the portion of Fuller Park in question was ranked using the city’s parkland acquisition criteria “it would rank exceedingly low and we wouldn’t want to acquire it.”

Commission member David Santacroce, who also favored the resolution, expressed hesitation about second guessing the work of experts who decided that Fuller Park is the best location for the station. He also said the site of the station would still be needed for parking for the park.

Ruth Kraut, who voted against the resolution, retorted she’s not sure it would always have to be a parking lot, saying some have argued the site has been a parking lot for too long and should be transformed into green space.

“I feel there are other alternatives. I’m not convinced this is the best alternative, even if it weren’t parkland,” she said.

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Fuller Park Favored for New Ann Arbor Station

September 19, 2017

A draft environmental assessment favors placing the new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor in Fuller Park.

The long-awaited 212-page report was released on Monday after the Federal Railroad Administration gave the go ahead to do so.

Public comments are being accepted through Nov. 2 and opposition is expected given that many in Ann Arbor have already spoken against using a city park for a new train station.

The city also considered sites along Depot Street, where the existing Amtrak station is located.

Ann Arbor officials have long favored the Fuller Park site in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The new station would be elevated over the tracks in order to connect with a city-owned parking lot leased to the University of Michigan.

Development of the station is projected to occur in two stages. Phase I includes:

  • Construct station above the tracks
  • Construct five-level intermodal operations and parking structure to accommodate transit operations, 435 long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term parking spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces and motorcycle parking, bicycle parking, shared bicycle service and bicycle room in parking structure
  • Construct vertical circulation element on north side of the tracks
  • Construct platform on the north side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/West Site driveway intersection
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/East Site driveway intersection
  • Relocate and reconstruct the Fuller Road crossovers, including 250 foot, left-turn bays at each crossover
  • Construct four bus bays

Phase II includes:

  • Construct additional parking structure levels to accommodate 870 total long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces
  • Construct five additional bus bays to equal nine bus bays

If a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit is implemented, the station project would also include:

  • Construct second 800-foot platform on south side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct vertical circulation elements (elevators and stairs for pedestrians) on south side of the tracks
  • Construct an additional 250 spaces (1,320 total)

The environmental assessment noted that the Fuller Road site can be developed on property owned by the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation, thereby eliminating the need to acquire additional property.

However, the station will require the use of 3.2 acres of Fuller Park, which in turn must be approved by Ann Arbor’s Park Advisory Commission and City Council approval.

Another factor weighing in favor of the Fuller Park site was lower costs, which were estimated at $81 million. Development of a station along Depot Street would cost between $94 million to $98 million.

Ann Arbor Sets New Deadlines for Station Study

June 24, 2017

Although Ann Arbor officials have already missed one of their self-imposed deadlines, they continue to insist that there is still time to finish an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station by late July.

That report will narrow three potential sites for the new depot to one.

Last month Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the goal was to have the assessment ready for public release by June 19.

That didn’t happen but Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council this week that staff has made progress on the report and is working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation to get it finished as soon as possible.

Among the locations being reviewed for the new station are the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a location in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital and the former Michigan Central station on Depot Street that now houses the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

Lazarus said city staff and AECOM, a consultant helping the city prepare the environmental assessment report, have completed various revisions and are expected to have a complete draft ready to send to the FRA shortly after June 22.

“FRA will complete their review of the resubmitted and revised documents and schedule a call with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office,” Lazarus wrote in a memo to the council. “MISHPO has the authority to make determinations on the implications of the proposed design alternatives on historic resources. The current draft documents reflect the current state of consideration recognizing specific detail regarding impacts on historic resources.”

The FRA review of the assessment is expected to take a couple of weeks.

“Once the FRA management signs off on the document, the materials are ready for public review,” he wrote in the council memo.

The environmental assessment will be made available on a project website, at city hall and during three public meetings.

Ann Arbor is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to use a federal grant to pay for preliminary engineering designs. Any money not spent by that date will revert back to the federal treasury.

Lazarus said the preliminary engineering work began on May 22.

City officials hope to begin a 30-day public comment period about the environmental assessment on July 30 with public meetings held in August.

The preliminary engineering work would continue into December.

Lazarus said the city, MDOT and the FRA have agreed to a “tapered match” approach for having federal funds cover all of the costs of ongoing work through the grant-funding period, after which the city will spend more local dollars to complete the remaining work.

That anticipates that 80 percent of the work will be federally funded and 20 percent locally funded.

After the FRA has approved a plan for a new station, Ann Arbor officials will put the project to a vote in an election. The city plans to seek federal funds to cover  most of the costs for final design and construction.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 24, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit for higher speed service.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some future time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman believes the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.

Ann Arbor City Council Gives OK to Funding for New Amtrak Station Design, Engineering Work

January 20, 2017

The Ann Arbor (Michigan) City Council this week approved a contract with a consultant to begin design and engineering work for a new Amtrak station, but not before city officials had to defend the need for the new facility.

michiganBy an 8-3 vote, the council agreed to pay for the work, but not before some questioned the need for the station, saying that Amtrak ridership in Ann Arbor has been falling for the past three years.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, acknowledged the ridership decline, but said in any event that a new station is needed because of crowding at the existing station and its poor condition.

“I would invite council members, members of the community, to come out and experience the existing Ann Arbor Amtrak station during periods of heavy use,” Cooper said. “The waiting room is substandard for the complement of passengers boarding trains today. This is based on the current ridership.”

Amtrak opened the existing modular station in 1983. When Amtrak began service in 1971, it served Ann Arbor through the former Michigan Central passenger station.

But it was squeezed out of that facility, which is today a privately-owned restaurant known as the Gandy Dancer.

A new Amtrak station is projected to cost more than $2 million with 80 percent of that cost being picked up by a federal grant.

But the station project has drawn the ire of some council members because it is behind schedule and over budget.

The city has yet to settle on a site for the new depot, which could be built near the existing station on Depot Street or in Fuller Park.

Voting against spending money for the design and engineering work were Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.

“This is a project that’s been consistently behind schedule and over budget,” Lumm said. “I’m not sure what makes us think that won’t continue. A good portion of the local dollars already invested are gone and, I fear, wasted. And we sit here tonight being asked to commit another $500,000 of taxpayer money.”

Lumm noted that the city faces a deadline to get the station completed before the federal grant expires.

“But because of the delays along the way, the clock is running out on the grant funding, so we’re now being asked to scramble and dive in to the next phase immediately,” she said. “That’s just not how we should be doing things.”

Cooper admitted that ridership projections that were calculated in 2014 may be overly optimistic.

One projection was that Ann Arbor would be handling nearly 1.4 million rail passengers in 2025. That would include Amtrak patronage of 969,000 and another 516.000 for a still-to-be-funded commuter rail service to Detroit. It was also based on Amtrak service increasing from three to 10 roundtrips a day between Chicago and Detroit.

In Amtrak’s fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, it handled 122,534 passengers, an 18 percent drop from ridership of three years earlier.

“The anticipated commuter service and the forecast and projection for future growth in both rail ridership and use at this station are, if you will, perhaps not well founded, but the need for the initial investment is in order to remedy the defects of the current station,” Cooper said.

Amtrak and state transportation officials have said that falling gasoline prices have cut into Amtrak ridership in Michigan.

Another factor was that during summer and fall of 2016 track work between Battle Creek and Jackson cut the level of service.

The work sponsored by Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation affected 41 miles of track and involved replacing 26,000 railroad ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 railroad grade crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Amtrak also upgraded its signal system east of Kalamazoo. The work was originally scheduled to be completed in September but did not end until November.

The State of Michigan owns most of the route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn while Amtrak owns the route between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The work was conducted as part of the Michigan Accelerated Rail Program with state officials saying that passengers will benefit from improved reliability, a smoother ride and the first 110-mph Amtrak service in the Midwest.

Greyound to Use Ann Arbor Amtrak Station

September 28, 2016

Greyhound buses serving Ann Arbor, Michigan, will soon be stopping outside the Amtrak station.

GreyhoundBoarding will be on Depot Street. City officials have removed two metered parking spots to make room for the buses to load and unload.

Currently, Greyhound’s Ann Arbor stop is at a makeshift ticket office inside a parking garage along Fourth Avenue across from the Blake Transit Center.

That move came in 2014 after the bus line was forced to move from Huron Street when the bus station there was razed to make way for a hotel.

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Susan Pollay said Greyhound passengers will enjoy a comfortable waiting area and the ability to transfer to Amtrak trains and Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority buses operating every 30 minutes between downtown and the Amtrak station.

No date has been announced for the move, but Greyhound’s lease for its Fourth Avenue space expires on Dec. 31.

DTE Energy Ann Arbor Mixed Use Riverfront Development Might Include New Amtrak Station

September 27, 2016

Ann Arbor authorities have responded favorably to a proposal by DTE Energy to develop riverfront property that could include a new Amtrak station.

Amtrak 4DTE is seeking to develop property it owns along the Huron River by creating a mixed used development.

The site is near the current Amtrak station. The city has been studying where to put a new Amtrak station.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he welcomes DTE Energy’s proposed development and that it might include a new Amtrak station along Depot Street.

City Council Member Jane Lumm also welcomed the possibilities for cleanup and redevelopment of the 14-acre riverfront property, located at 841 Broadway St.

DTE said it is working with a private developer and architect to create plans for a riverfront restaurant, hotel, office space and green space that would be open to the public.

Ann Arbor is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

Ann Arbor OKs Money for More Station Studies

September 22, 2016

The Ann Arbor City Council has approved a resolution to amend the city’s professional services agreement with AECOM, an engineering firm, which would provide additional funding to perform further studies on a new Amtrak station.

michiganHowever, some council members expressed discontent about how much money has already been spent on studies related to the new depot.

They noted that nearly a million dollars has already been expended on studies and environmental reviews since 2012 and yet a site for the station has yet to be chosen.

A study recently released identified several station options at three sites.

“This additional money is necessary because we have not narrowed it down to one site. The original agreement included the environment review for one preferred alternative,” said council member Jack Eaton. “If we were able to narrow it down to one alternative we would not have to spend this extra $196,000.”

Public Services Administrator Craig Hupy and Transportation Manager Eli Cooper said the additional city funding is needed for studies of the potential station sites because the project’s current funding grant from the Federal Railroad Association did not provide money for those studies.

Nine council members voted to approve the resolution, with Eaton the sole no vote.

Ann Arbor is served by six daily Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

Ann Arbor Eyes 3 Sites for New Amtrak Station

September 8, 2016

Ann Arbor officials have narrowed the list of potential sites for a new Amtrak station to three and hopes to further narrow the list before the end of the year.

The sites were named in a report the city recently released that spelled out four station design options.

Amtrak 4Two of the options involve the using the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a third involves renovating the former Michigan Central station while the fourth involves building on Fuller Road at the location of a city-owned parking garage near the University of Michigan Hospital.

City officials are hoping to move quickly to get a draft environmental assessment done and submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration as early as this fall.

The environmental assessment will include an evaluation of potential environmental impacts for the remaining design alternatives and identify a preferred site.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager said the city also has issued a request for proposals in an effort to hire an engineering firm to create preliminary engineering drawings as soon as the FRA approves the environmental assessment and a site is chosen.

Ann Arbor has $2 million left from a $2.8 million federal rail planning grant the city must be spend by September 2017 or lose that funding.

Although city hopes to have a final station design completed by late 2017, it is likely to be 2018 before construction can begin on the $44.5 million station. Ann Arbor voters must also approve the final design.

The process to create a new Amtrak station began in 2007. The existing station on Depot Street is a 1970s era Amtrak-built modular structure.

Although the city looked at 16 potential station sites, it initially favored building the station in a portion of Fuller Park in front of the UM Hospital.

Two years later the city and UM formed a partnership to create the Fuller Road Station.

But information from the FRA received in 2012 called the Fuller Road proposal into question and the alliance with UM fell apart.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said in a statement the city is committed to building a new Amtrak station and that public hearings will be held during the design stage of the planning process.

Ann Arbor is served by six Amtrak Wolverine Service trains and has been studying the establishment of commuter rail service.

Ann Arbor Won’t Release Report on Station Site

June 9, 2016

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council has narrowly defeated a motion to release more information about the city’s efforts to create a new Amtrak station.

The Ann Arbor News had filed a freedom of information request for copies of email messages between the city and the Federal Railroad Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation pertaining to the project.

Amtrak 4Although copies of the emails were released to the newspaper, they were heavily redacted.

A motion to release copies of the emails without the redactions was defeated in a 6-5 vote.

The council also rejected 6-5 a motion that an alternative analysis report be released.

City officials have said they are evaluating station sites on Depot Street and Fuller Road.

Council members voting against release said the city’s need to engage in frank communications outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

Ann Arbor city officials have said they won’t release the alternatives analysis report until a final draft is approved for release by the FRA.

Council members who voted to keep the report secret acknowledged that they don’t know all of what is in the email messages or the draft report.

Mayor Christopher Taylor said having the information subject to public review and input when it has yet to be approved by the FRA would be counterproductive.

Taylor said the city hasn’t decided on a station site because it has not heard conclusively from MDOT and the FRA where those agencies believe the depot should be situated.

“We are in the middle of a long and unpleasant process that no one is satisfied with. No one believes that this has gone well to this point,” he said.

“I think people at the table here are frustrated. People on the staff are frustrated, of course. But that’s where we are. We are not running the show.”

Ann Arbor officials have long favored building the station on city park land along Fuller Raod, but the FRA has favored redeveloping the former Michigan Central station, which is now a restaurant.

The current Amtrak station on Depot Street could also be redeveloped.

The Ann Arbor News said that in response to its FOI request, it received more than 400 pages of emails sent to and from Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, dating to August 2014.

Redacted from the emails provided to the newspaper were comments made by the FRA on the station site draft report.

Mayor Taylor said once the station analysis report is released there will be ample opportunity for public review and comment.