– A Transportation System is More Than a Station:

It’s Time to Re-Think Ann Arbor’s Train Station Plan

Opinion: We strongly suggest that now is the time to re-think expectations for a new Ann Arbor Amtrak station. Why? Cost and location are the main reasons for reconsideration. 

Please review paragraph 4 of the attached message excerpt from Federal Railroad Administration staff, released via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. You will see that concerns about projected costs are paramount, based on the preliminary engineering that was submitted to the FRA by the city, in September 2018.

Questions and Comments:

What if the resources required to build a station in a new location are so costly that our Michigan to Chicago regional passenger rail service is impaired rather than improved?

In January 2018, we were told that construction costs were projected to be $87 million for the train station alternative proposed for Fuller Park . The project team submitted updated cost estimates to the FRA in September 2018, based on their preliminary engineering plans. The FRA assessment in the above attached message describes the costs as “an order of magnitude higher” than other new stations in the Midwest (emphasis added).  This comment raises concern for the success of obtaining federal funding for the project.

Per the FRA, improvements are needed along the entire set of tracks between Pontiac and Chicago, in addition to improvements in Ann Arbor’s station. We interpret the FRA message as indicating that a modest design, more consistent with other stations in the midwest would be appropriate and more likely to be supported for funding. 

Is the proposed design a prudent use of resources, and supportive of the future of transportation?

FRA questions the “substantial parking” proposed, as do we. We agree with goals for our future transportation methods to shift from single occupant fossil fuel powered vehicles to increased use of options such as long-distance rail, commuter rail, driverless- and electric- vehicles, bicycles, pedestrian paths, and improved intra-city bus services. Over-building for parking, with a plan for 1,200 parking spaces, does not make sense when we are confronted with the need to move away from use of fossil fuels. We want to support transportation movement, rather than storage of vehicles.

FRA suggested reducing the scope and scale of the project. We have commented similarly in writing and in meetings. We want to see a reconsideration of design and services that will work well for the community and the region.

Location, location, location.

The FRA indicates that the constraints of the Fuller Park location identified for preliminary engineering resulted in a design that will be costly in comparison with stations in our region for which FRA funding has been awarded. 

We point out an additional constraint: opportunities for transit-oriented development in Fuller Park are limited to the footprint of the project. The Fuller Park location is isolated from nearby development opportunities. It is park land, and is surrounded by park and University land, which are not available for development that would support the success of the project.

We further question the Fuller Park location for its lack of connection with the central areas of activity for Ann Arbor. We assert that the Depot Street location provides better access to local businesses, entertainment, government services, and commerce for the people of Ann Arbor, visitors, and commuters. The Depot Street location is connected to streets that allow options for travel in multiple directions. The Fuller Park location is constrained to east-west travel for all modes of transportation. 

Our current Ann Arbor Amtrak station located on Depot Street could be upgraded in ways that improve the size and quality of the station space, traffic flow, and rail passenger service, with less cost to the city and to the FRA.

What should we do now?

We are worried. It would be a waste and a gross injustice for wise use of our common resources if Ann Arbor built a grand new station and usurped infrastructure resources to the extent that the remainder of rail service for the Michigan to Chicago system was impaired. 

The most recent opportunity for public comment on the project was November 2, 2017. Since then, Council has approved additional funds to cover unexpected costs for preliminary engineering. As of February 2019, while we continue waiting for a revised draft of the Environmental Assessment, we can re-start the discussion of the kind of passenger rail station and transportation center that we want in Ann Arbor. 

The context of development activity in the Depot street area has changed in the last year. The DTE property and the Lowertown projects represent the kinds of opportunities for the transit-oriented development synergy that a train station can contribute to the city. 

Let’s start talking about how bus lines can be re-routed and plans for use of automated cars and vans to keep people moving into and around the downtown, hospital, and campus areas. Let’s complete the Border to Border Trail, and improve the non-motorized transportation options that will reduce our carbon emissions. Let’s re-assess the parking structure projections. Let’s use our resources wisely. Let’s make a plan for success.

We want a passenger station that helps to move people, not one that impairs the process of transportation. We can start that work now, and keep the trains rolling!

Protect A2 Parks

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