Is 12 a Train Station a High Priority or Not?

Ann Arbor City Council’s agenda for January 17, 2017 includes a resolution requesting additional funding for Preliminary Engineering and Design for the Ann Arbor Amtrak Station, with a request for additional local funding of $151,600 as a 20% match for a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) grant of just under $2,000,000 for this planning component of the proposed project.

See MLive article on the 1/17/17 Council agenda item, here:

A look at train ridership as Ann Arbor considers $2.4M next step on new station

ProtectA2Parks identified some problems with the agenda item:

Placing the topic on the Council Consent Agenda appears to be an attempt to minimize public review of the funding request for what has been an ongoing controversial project. The City’s Capital Improvement Plan indicates the Ann Arbor Station as the highest priority project for funding for Alternative Transportation. As such, using the category of Consent Agenda minimizes the importance and simul- taneously minimizes public discussion of the funding request.

The preferred location for the station has not yet been recommended by the FRA, which manages the National Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment, a process required because one proposed location is city park land. A 30 day public comment period is required following a FRA recommendation, before a final decision is made.

The consultant’s calendar for activity is based on a start date of early November 2016, three months prior to the January 17, 2017 Council meeting date. Unless activity on the engineering process has been initiated prior to Council approval for the funding requested, the schedule presented to Council requires updating, so that Council knows what to expect of the consultants.

According to the January 17 resolution, the FRA requires that invoicing for the Preliminary Engineering and Design be completed by May 31, 2017. Components of the consultant’s and subconsultant’s tasks show planning for cumulative time in excess of 4,000 work hours. City staff time is not included in that count of work hours. Three public meeting series are to be scheduled, to support public participation. Even with multiple staff members and consultants working simultaneously, we question the likelihood of completing the tasks within the time frame identified, if the consultant start date is subsequent to January 17, 2017.

Questions continue: Why is the project presented as one that is so non-consequential that it is placed on the Consent Agenda, yet it is prioritized at the top of the Alternative Transportation Capital Improvement Plan? How can the consultant complete the complex tasks within the time frame required in order to obtain the matching federal grant funds? Why is information on the Ann Arbor Amtrak Station project consistently screened from the public view?

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Outcome of the A2 Council Meeting: Council voted to approve the resolution to add $151,600 from General Funds to the Ann Arbor Station project, and to proceed with Preliminary Engineering and Design. Discussion focused on factors of improving rail transportation, which was not the question presented for the vote. A new station building is unrelated to the quality of the train ride experience, frequency of trains, and on-time statistics.

Voting Yes: Mayor Taylor, Chip Smith, Chuck Warpehoski, Graydon Krapohl, Zachary Ackerman, Julie Grand, Kirk Westphal, and Jason Frenzel.

Voting No: Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy, and Jane Lumm

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[Originally posted January 17, 2017]