(Originally posted May 9, 2019)
Ann Arbor Station cost estimates have escalated significantly from the last information provided to the public in the fall of 2017. In early January, 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) staff who have worked on the Ann Arbor Station Environmental Assessment responded to the preliminary engineering project budget. They stated that the construction budget submitted in September 2018 is “an order of magnitude higher” than other new stations along the Wolverine Line between Detroit and Chicago that have received FRA grant funds.
We followed up and asked for the second draft of cost estimates submitted in September 2018*, which is yet to be formally presented to the public. The answer: Construction costs for full build-out, described as Phase 1 and Phase 2 combined, are now estimated at $171,400,000*. This most recent amount is a 99% increase from the the January 2018 estimate of $86,192,278, which was corrected for a math error that understated total costs for Phases 1 and 2. In October 2017, project staff said that the budget could increase or decrease. The September 2018 amount submitted to the FRA for review is greater than any wild dream.
A question for the community: Do the people of Ann Arbor agree with the priority of the expense proposed for Ann Arbor Amtrak Station project?
Some context to consider: Amtrak owns and operates the train station that is located on Depot Street. The location has served our community for 180 years. If the city proceeds with the project in Fuller Park, the result would be to use public park land for the parking structure, and to take on the costs to construct, own, manage, and maintain the parking structure and a train station.
It’s not just about Ann Arbor
The FRA staff assessment of the project cost estimate is a big concern. They implied that FRA funding of the proposed Ann Arbor Station budget would be affected by needs of other passenger rail facilities. In other words, the FRA proportion of funding is unknown, and likely limited by the need to support improvements along the entire Wolverine Line between Pontiac and Chicago.
Rail passengers all along the Wolverine Line, including people in the communities of Ypsilanti, Jackson, Marshall, and Battle Creek, as well as Indiana and Illinois could be affected if Ann Arbor uses a disproportionate share of funds. Conversely, Ann Arbor cannot count on monopolizing FRA funding resources.
The Ever-Expanding Estimates
Can we expect costs to increase even more, assuming that the project continues? The project history indicates that the answer to that question is: Yes.
The FRA suggested that project staff investigate “value engineering”, to reduce some costs. The outcome of additional work on the cost estimate budget is yet to be provided to the public.
The September 2018 estimate is based on preliminary engineering of the full construction project. Additional costs to be included in the final tally are for changes to roadways surrounding the site, Environmental Assessment expenses from prior years, and costs to finalize detailed engineering specifications for construction.
Details Matter: The Priority is Parking
Budgets represent priorities. We encourage readers to review the detail of the Ann Arbor Station cost estimate*. Approximately 71% of the $171,410,000* costs estimated are dedicated to parking, while only 12% of the total costs are planned for the train station itself. The conflict in priorities is a sad comment on the entire project, because the funding for parking supports ongoing use of large numbers of automobiles and clearly overshadows mass transit.
Members of Protect A2 Parks support the goal to encourage people to switch their transportation mode from cars to mass transit services. We want the future of transportation in our community to reduce our collective carbon emissions. We question the disproportionate level of funding to support driving and storing 1,185 automobiles at the site of a public train station.
While Ann Arbor Station project cost estimates have expanded significantly, we have yet to hear of the plan to pay for the proposed station. There are many unanswered questions. We want an open discussion among community members, with the goal of supporting use of mass transportation and a clean environment. Let’s start the discussion.
(1) The early Ann Arbor Multimodal Transit Station Issue Analysis (p. 15) shows cost estimates for full build-out of parking for 780-1100 cars by Phase 2, in 2009 dollars. The project goal at that time was to build a new parking structure, funded primariliy by UM, with approximately 80% of spaces for UM use. Construction of a new train station was referenced as a future project.
(2) Environmental Assessment Ann Arbor Intermodal Station, City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan, Alternative 3A, Fuller Park, See p. 166; cost estimate amount was corrected to $86,192,278, based on math error of cost estimate.
(3) Alternative 3A, Fuller Park, full build to 1,165 (539 spaces Phase 1 plus 626 spaces Phase 2), in 2018 dollars. (Ann Arbor Train Station Conceptually Estimated Opinion, p. 3)
*Minor calculation errors found in the September 2018 project cost estimate table that was submitted to the FRA are marked with red highlight. View a spreadsheet with corrected subtotals and totals here.