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Posted on Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Future downtown Ann Arbor train station? Officials eye 415 W. Washington as part of WALLY study

By Ryan J. Stanton


The city-owned property at 415 W. Washington as viewed from the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks looking west. The site is being considered for a future commuter rail station serving the proposed north-south WALLY line between Ann Arbor and Howell.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Local officials working on the WALLY commuter rail project say city-owned property at 415 W. Washington St. is a potential site for a future downtown Ann Arbor train station.

"The 415 site is a candidate, but is not the only possibility," said Michael Benham, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's strategic planner.

Benham said work has just begun on the first phase of the WALLY Station Location and Design Project, which includes a search for a downtown station location.


The original concept for a greenway park at 415 W. Washington, showing the building on the site still standing while the greenway takes shape along the tracks. Now the building is expected to be demolished. If a commuter rail station is built along a portion of the tracks, it's expected the rest of the site still could be turned into a greenway park.

Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy

"This effort will evaluate sites all along the tracks that go through downtown from roughly Summit Street to Hill Street," he said.

Asked what other potential sites have been identified, Benham responded: "Any area along the tracks where a station might fit is a candidate at this point."

Ann Arbor officials announced this week they're leaning toward demolishing the dilapidated building that stands at 415 W. Washington on the west edge of downtown, across from the YMCA.

The city still has plans for a greenway park with trails running through the site, but the enthusiasm behind the idea of turning the building into a community arts center seems to be shifting over to another city-owned property at 721 N. Main St., where multiple unused buildings stand. That opens up new possibilities for 415 W. Washington.

A commuter rail station at 415 W. Washington is unlikely to happen until years into the future even if the site is chosen and funding becomes available. In theory, it would service the north-south commuter rail line known as WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Line), which is in the planning stages now and would link Ann Arbor and Howell with stops in between.

The plans for a downtown commuter rail station along the north-south Ann Arbor Railroad tracks are entirely separate from the new Amtrak passenger train station some city officials want to see built on Fuller Road along the east-west Norfolk Southern tracks between Detroit and Chicago.

Eli Cooper, the city's transportation program manager, said a downtown Ann Arbor commuter rail station wouldn't have to take up much space.

"It could simply be a platform with shelters attached to the platform or a small waiting facility, much of which could actually be accommodated in the railroad right-of-way," he said. "And although it may be in proximity to the 415 W. Washington site, it may not occupy the footprint of that site at all."

He said the nature of a commuter rail station is entirely different from the kind of full-service Amtrak station with large parking facilities that the city is talking about on Fuller Road.

He said there wouldn't need to be a large parking component at a downtown Ann Arbor commuter rail station, because the idea for WALLY is it would be a single-directional service — bringing people into Ann Arbor in the morning, and back to points north at the end of the work day.

Asked whether a train station at 415 W. Washington would conflict with the city's vision for a greenway park there, Benham said he doesn't think so.

"Again, the station location study is intended to answer this question definitively, but my casual look at the site suggests that the two projects could work very well together," he said.

Benham said it's critical that station planning takes place in cooperation with other efforts aimed at improving the downtown area.

"Our objective would be to support other plans for downtown as much as possible," he said. "The rail project is likely to need a fairly narrow band of the corridor, at any location."

Past planning efforts for WALLY have looked at station locations and designs at a fairly high or conceptual level, Benham said, but the upcoming work is intended to identify more precise locations of stations, because there are multiple possibilities in most communities.

The work will include developing station designs that take into account specific local conditions such as topography, utility locations, and pedestrian, automobile and bicycle links.

Benham said the work will support an analysis of environmental impacts, as required by the National and Environmental Policy Act, and will help make cost estimates more detailed and precise.

The work is funded largely by a Federal Highway Administration grant, with some local contributions from Howell, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and Washtenaw County.

Benham said the work is organized into two phases. The first phase, which is taking place now through August, includes looking at downtown Ann Arbor station locations. The second phase includes all other possible station locations, plus the design and NEPA work.


A hypothetical route for the proposed WALLY commuter rail service linking Howell and Ann Arbor with stops in between.

"Both phases include extensive public involvement," Benham said. "In the case of Ann Arbor, there will be two widely publicized public meetings to obtain ideas of interested citizens."

Those meetings aren't scheduled yet. The selected consultant for the project is Ann-Arbor-based Smith Group/JJR.

A previous study estimated about 1,300 riders each way per day would use a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell.

It's also estimated to require $19 million to $35 million in capital costs. The total estimated operating cost is about $7.1 million annually.

Benham said much of that would be covered by passenger fares plus an assumed level of state operating funds, resulting in a local share of about $2.2 million. So-called "wild cards" that could affect operating costs are insurance and trackage rights.

Supporters of a north-south rail line bringing commuters into Ann Arbor argue it would be significantly more costly to add extra highway lanes for automobile traffic on US-23. The Michigan Department of Transportation previously estimated adding a third lane to US-23 would cost about $500 million.

Some remain skeptical there's enough demand to support WALLY, though, and some question the money being spent to investigate multiple long-range transit initiatives at once.

In addition to WALLY, efforts are under way to launch an east-west commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit, a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor to take advantage of high-speed rail promised between Detroit and Chicago, a high-capacity transit system such as light rail or bus rapid transit in Ann Arbor, expanded bus services between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and now a Regional Transit Authority connecting Ann Arbor to Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties via buses.

City Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent who represents the 2nd Ward, said at a council meeting in September the costs to implement all of those initiatives amount to hundreds of millions of dollars and she doesn't see where the money is going to come from.


John Hieftje

"We continue to proceed on these multiple fronts without answers to basic questions and I really feel strongly that needs to stop," she said.

Mayor John Hieftje told in January he supports WALLY as an alternative to adding more lanes on US-23. He said adding more lanes won't eliminate congestion.

"Look at the 12-lane roads in L.A. and Atlanta that used to be two lanes," he said. "The same thing has happened north of Detroit. Cars flow like water to where there is the least resistance."

Hieftje said an estimated 68,000 workers drive to Ann Arbor every day from outside the city, and he guessed maybe a fifth of them come from the north.

He noted the University of Michigan has offered to subsidize the cost of WALLY tickets for its employees who want to commute to work by rail.

"As I recall, back in 2007 or '08, the U-M surveyed their employees who lived in zip codes along the WALLY line and 1,400 of them said they would ride the train if given the choice," he said.

Hieftje said anyone who ever criticized the city or U-M for building parking structures should be a fan of WALLY and trains, unless they'd rather not see more jobs created in Ann Arbor.

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Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Mar 29, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

I've started a series on transportation funding. It has a bumper sticker, "My other car is a train".


Fri, Mar 29, 2013 : 1:50 a.m.

A "station location and design project" happening for a "hypothetical route for a proposed train". So very real dollars, spent on a somewhat less than real project, again.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 10:08 p.m.

"Hieftje said anyone who ever criticized the city or U-M for building parking structures should be a fan of WALLY and trains, unless they'd rather not see more jobs created in Ann Arbor." Oh I'm a fan of trains. A car and Jeep buff too. I really like motorcycles. And jets. And big rockets, too. I also bicycled my buns off as a kid. And I like horses - especially when they go in front of the cart. A metaphor for the city. Tax payers first. Commuters last. People want Ann Arbor to grow. Why? If it costs more would you have a second opinion on that? Well, city growth costs more. The first-world population trend is less not more. Saving something for the next generations to survive with is the humane thing to do. So people are. Yet as intelligent as Ann Arbor is, that trend (which exists here too) doesn't seem to register with the Mayor and his business colleagues. Nor the University of Michigan for some inexplicable reason. If it were not for immigration the population of the United States would be decreasing. Don't believe me? Try googling 'fertility rates'. If your demographic shows less than 2.1 then it is below replacement level - shrinking. Population decline like in Europe. And Japan. And Brazil. The Mayor's Model city Boulder CO recognized that trend back in 1976. The residents wanted to see the Rocky Mountains instead of endless highrises. So they instituted a strict city growth limit long ago. They have regular commuter buses today to outlying cities and Denver. Same unemployment rate of 5%. Boulder didn't fade away because it stopped growing. Just the opposite. It became THE "exclusive" place to be and live a great life in Colorado - if you can get in. Nobody likes to be excluded so some will push endless growth just so they can do their selfish drive-by and then move on. Why the Boulder attraction? Jealousy. The "model" city put their people FIRST.

James J. Gould

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 9:42 p.m.

We need to bring the Germans over to show us how to run our trains correctly. Anybody who hase ever been there knows what a fabulous system they have. The transit systems here are a joke compared to them. This discussion is a waste of time because we will never support the infrastructure to do a proper commuter transit system. The cost-effectiveness just isn't there and never will be. The only realistic thing would be to try a couple Budd rail cars and see if anybody would use them. Bus service to the UofM campus would also be mandatory. If that worked, then look at future improvements to equipment and service. That test would prove how viable the service could be. I do agree that the old American Broach building should be removed and the property re-developed to something useful.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 8:52 p.m.

Tom Whitaker has it right. A "build it and they will come" mentality is too risky with so much money involved. Try busses and get people used to the idea of commuting. It's not just building a few stations and choo choos. Will the Argo trestle accommodate a passenger train?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

A lot of comments seem to focus on the current environment and not the future. We're going to grow, the question is how to spend resources. Personally, I want to be off the road, cause drivers are only getting worse.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 5:51 p.m.

A new train station won't change the fact that the amtrak train is chronically late. And the high cost will only further compound the extreme cost of train travel.

Local Yocal

Fri, Mar 29, 2013 : 12:02 a.m.

Talked with a railroad foreman as they were aligning track thru Ann Arbor. This man had 30 years working with the then owner of the railroad. His opinion was that because of the curves in the track and all the rural ( poorly marked) crossings that speed could not be reached. This railway has been in existence for decades and decades. I've ridden and have yet to see the train achieve 110 mph. But I have seen several homesteads just across the tracks with a crossing with no signals. His suggestion was if you wanted high speed rail to Chicago just run it down the right of way in the middle ( the divided highway ) of the I 94. Good idea, but probably never gonna happen. Cost is to high..

Jack Eaton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 6:12 p.m.

I think you are confusing the east-west rails on which the Amtrak runs with the north-south rails on which the WALLY is intended to run. This article is about finding a location for a train station for the WALLY service. The timeliness of Amtrak eventually may be improved by two factors. First, the east-west rails have been purchased by the State from the freight company that owned them. Amtrak will no longer be required to give the right of way to every freight train. Second, the State, using federal funds, will improve the east-west rails so that trains can run at up to 110 mile per hour. If you have recently taken the train to Chicago, you may have noticed that west of Kalamazoo, Amtrak runs at about 110 mph. It's pretty nice. Unlike the east-west Amtrak service, the WALLY is not intended to serve the taxpayers of Ann Arbor who are paying for this scheme. The WALLY service will be for people who work in Ann Arbor but choose to live in other communities with lower taxes. It will benefit developers who own property along the WALLY route who are just waiting to build more urban sprawl, once there is convenient, Ann Arbor subsidized commuter rail service. Another difference between the proposed Amtrak station and this WALLY station is the concern over flooding. Proponents of building a new, expensive Amtrak station in Fuller Road Park argue that the current Amtrak station is located in a flood area. On the other hand, the 415 W. Washington site is in an Allens Creek flooding area but that does not seem to concern the train station advocates. The cost of the Fuller Park Amtrak station and the West Washington WALLY stations will have no impact on the cost of travel. The taxpayers of Ann Arbor will pay the local share of both stations, and it will not be passed through into the cost of train tickets.

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

If UM has 1400 employees ready to take some form of transit from Howell/Brighton/Whitmore Lake to Ann Arbor, and they are willing to cover the cost of their rides, why does UM not go ahead and implement a commuter bus system on this same route (using coaches like the ones used for Air Ride or even double-deckers like MegaBus)? Buses are probably the best solution long term anyway, as they can serve existing park and ride lots along the highway or other stops, but using them now would also provide a more realistic study of how many UM employees might actually use commuter transit from points north. Then, a more informed decision could be made about implementing WALLY. If it's a go, you will already have hundreds of riders trained to use commuter transit. If not, you have a flexible bus system that can be tailored to demand.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 6:13 p.m.

Reasonable and practical suggestion.

Bob W

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 5:10 p.m.

I've live in A2 for 40 years. Again I think our belief that railroads are the answer if a mistake. We are not Europe (all if which would fit east of the Mississippi R.) and we are not China with zero roads. Our history in this country re: railroads is at best a mixed bag even from their inception. A lot of corruption, and bankruptcies and wasted money. Twenty or thirty years ago A2 tried to develop a commuter service to Detroit. It never worked out. I tried using it, even committed to purchasing monthly passes. It went something like this. If I drove to Detroit, it took fifty minutes unless there was the occasional accident or winter storm. Made this commute for twenty years. Switching to rail meant 15 minutes to get to the station which is now the Gandy Dancer. Get on the train and it made a stop in Dearborn. Train arrives at the old Michigan Central Station and we transferred to buses to get downtown. Total time, at least 90 minutes on a good day. The real problem is the schedule and frequency of trains. Morning was not a problem really the extra time was at least for the most part relaxing. Getting home was another matter. The "commuter" train left at a very specific time from Michigan Central and there was only one train. Now they would honor the commuter pass on the Detroit to Chicago train in the evening if you missed the commuter. However, I was never guaranteed a specific quitting time, I worked in systems. If I also missed the Chicago train, my only other way back to A2 was a Greyhound bus, that was NOT fun! My pass was not honored by them so that was another out of pocket cost. So, unless they are going to run trains quite frequently during the morning and evening commute windows, say even every 30 minutes during a 2-3 hour window (which I think would be very costly), I predict this too will end in failure, and I would consider myself something of a train buff which makes it a shame, but you can't make a silk purse out of sow's ear.


Fri, Mar 29, 2013 : 2:58 a.m.

" We are not Europe (all if which would fit east of the Mississippi R.) and we are not China with zero roads." The Chinese federal highway system is longer than our Interstate Highway System. And Europe is larger than the entire United States.

Linda Peck

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

How I wish we could have our basic services upgraded at a reasonable cost to the residents without spending so much money on dreams and very little on what counts to us. How I wish people with practical minds would be handling our city's affairs.

Tom Joad

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

Good plan for the park there between Washington and Liberty but build a bike path between the Y and the tracks to Huron and then have a pedestrian bike bridge over Huron landing on the site occupied by Enterprise Car rental (after purchasing that lot)...then you could continue on to West Park without having to deal with the horrendous traffic on Huron. The more separation you have between pedestrians/bikers and cars the more livable and enjoyable the city will be.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

Nobody seems to have noticed one implication of this story: Hiefje has taken this property off the market indefinitely. No other use of the lot will be considered while the WALLY fantasy is in play. There is a hint in the story that Hiefje intends to spend money on this scheme (knocking down a building, etc.) without waiting for WALLY to be funded (which may never happen).

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

The idea to knock down the building was presented to the mayor and council Monday night by the city's administration. The property has always been planned to be a greenway park and that hasn't changed. It just could have a commuter rail component at the edge of it if this happens, and the building demo has to do with a desire to remove the structure from the flood zone and a preliminary analysis that suggests reuse would be problematic.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

The RoadRunner experience in Albuquerque and Santa Fe showed that the merchants, restaurants, etc surrounding the "train station(s)" protested because all the "riders", going back and forth to A and SF, were taking up the parking spaces needed for their businesses. On one hand they liked the new business from the riders getting off, but on the other hand those parking and riding either way were hurting their "regular" business. So the parking lots for the riders of the RoadRunner ended up somewhat remote. Plan ahea...d..... DDA.

Dog Guy

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

In the Ann Arbor idiom, he who pays the mayor calls the tune.

Ren Farley

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

The Census Bureau's 2011 American Community survey estimates that there were about 4800 residents of Livingston County who worked in the city of Ann Arbor. I am not sure how you can accurately project how many of them would use the Wally rail line. Some employers would use the federal tax credit to subsidize their employees travel as would the University. One thousand riders per day in each direction after the service is proven reliable might be reasonable. There is something to be learned from what has happened in other areas. With the development of the Downeaster service from Boston to Portland towns including Exeter, Durham and Dover New Hampshire became accessible for those who worked in Boston where home prices are very high. A commuter rail line north from Ann Arbor would stimulate the development of housing in Livingston County since lodging is too expensive within the city of Ann Arbor for many who work at the hospital and university.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

Does Livingston County need stimulation for housing? I think not, but any proof you could provide might be helpful if it's your main arguement for this.Fantasy/guessing/daydreaming/supposing is no longer accepted with regards to such large projects. You can take that approach on your home/yard projects.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

Thanks for the great followup on this question from a day or two ago, Ryan. Here is my post with the long history of WALLY The story that keeps on giving!

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

Glad to see a lively discussion happening this morning. I need to give Jack Eaton some credit for the assist on getting this story out. It was a comment he left on another story of mine a couple days ago that prompted me to look into whether 415 W. Washington was being considered for a future commuter rail station. I poked around a little and it turned out that's the case. Good example of the benefits of having engaged and thoughtful readers who take the time to chime in.

Fred Pettit

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 4:33 p.m.

Good investigative reporting Ryan, keep it up.

Jack Eaton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

Thank you Ryan for following up on the connection between the search for a downtown WALLY station and the decision to demolish the building at 415 W. Washington. If you are going to cover City Hall, your first question should always be: "What does this have to do with trains?" That simple question will often lead you to the real story.

Peter Hochgraf

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

A small correction: "...built on Fuller Road along the east-west Norfolk Southern tracks between Detroit and Chicago." The East-West tracks are not Norfolk Southern's track, they are now owned by MDOT. I've personally never seen the ridership demand for the Wally line, we're talking a few, if even a hundred, people that would use it to commute from Howell to Ann Arbor and back. There doesn't seem to be really any need for such line from anyone who lives in Ann Arbor. I just don't see the need for this, and I'm a huge rail advocate. The MiTrain (SEMCOG) makes much more sense as an investment, there a a lot of people here in A2 that commute to the Detroit area for work (Ford, etc) as well as a lot that commute from Detroit into A2, as well as the ability to take the train to the airport. MiTrain has a much higher ridership potential then WALLY; MiTrain also has the ability in (admittedly quite a few years away) of becoming a connection point for other commuter lines based out of Detroit (they can add a line out towards Pontiac, or even down to Toledo) then there is a connection advantage to the line. The proposed WALLY line has none of that, the most we can really look for is maybe one year, it could be expanded to Lansing...

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

I'm aware there is an ownership transfer happening. I've written about that at least a few times, and I'll try to slip in mention of it in future stories. But for the time being, these are still being commonly referred to as the "Norfolk Southern tracks," just as the tracks now owned by Watco are still being called the "Ann Arbor Railroad" tracks. But I see your point.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

Why do they think people want to go to Howell?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

Ryan, My problem in part is the number of users versus the cost. Focusing on the number of users, lets say it is 1300. That doesn't mean 1300 cars off the road unless every one of those folks drives alone. I might suggest the kind of people who are inclined to take a train might be people who already share a commute. So 2 or 3 train riders in some cases will only represent 1 car.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

The thinking is it would benefit us, too, by taking roughly 1,300 cars a day off the road and reduce traffic congestion in Ann Arbor and the need for more parking in Ann Arbor. That's at least the argument being made for it.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2 p.m.

They don't. They want Ann Arbor taxpayers to subsidize people who benefit from working in Ann Arbor, but don't pay the costs of living here (including property taxes).

Ren Farley

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

The Census Bureau's 2010 estimates report that5 112,000 people were employed in the city of Ann Arbor. Of those, 86,000 lived outside the city. That is, 77 percent of the people working in the city were not residents of the city. Quite likely a moderate to substantial fraction of them would take public transportation were it efficient and convenient. Developing the Wally line with a stop in downtown Ann Arbor is as reasonable step in that directions. As other have noted, there are good reasons to consider a city income tax in Ann Arbor. Why should 77 percent of the people employed here - a number that Ann reports will increase in the next few years - pay nothing to use the city's services. Twenty one Michigan cities have city income tax. Should Ann Arbor become the 22nd so that funds will be available to build crucial infastructure such as rail lines and depots?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 5:45 p.m.

A City of Ann Arbor income tax is an awful idea. I personally hated working in Battle Creek with their income tax. I had to pay but had no influence on how that money was spent. It was the classic case of taxation without representation. All governments, including the City of Ann Arbor, need to be responsive and accountable to those who are paying the taxes which fund their operation. When potentially 77% of an organization's resources come from a source that has no say in how those monies are spent, corruption and waste are virtually guaranteed. Look at Battle Creek and Detroit, both have income taxes. Both are pretty awful.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

Remind me again just what "city services" a non-resident that works in the city uses? The Art? The pothole festooned streets? Doesn't this mythical freeloader's employer pay city taxes?

Chase Ingersoll

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

Let's start with commuter bus service that would not require the risk of capital on infrastructure.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

Between the hospital and the university U of M employs approximately 46,000 people. The majority of traffic in and out of Ann Arbor is related to U of M. There was a recent article in the Ann Arbor news regarding U of M's financial status and investment portfolio, U of M is flush with cash, their sitting on 8 billion dollars. Let U of M build a train station, don't burden taxpayers on this very costly train station concept which will primarily benefit U of M.

Thomas Cook

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Never going to happen if Watco, which now owns the Ann Arbor Railroad, doesn't want it to happen.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

See how the wheels of city planning keep moving, no matter how high the cost, or how low the public interest? Then, veiled threats from the mayor suggesting we had better like it or we are against jobs? This is all worked out for you, dear tax payers, just go along. First read our story that we might tear down a building. Then learn that the former buildings site might be part of a study. How much does (what a surprise!) Smith Group/JJR get for this "next phase" study? That number is missing, but I am sure it is a big one. The only jobs that the mayor is worrying about are the ones he provides for his pals, through pet projects, funded with our debt. No thank you to more deficit spending.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Yeah, that won't be noisy at all. Remind me again why we even need a new train station? If we do really need it (hah), why not put it, and the parking, outside the city? Use bus shuttles to get to the train station.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:54 p.m.

Let's say I did take a train to Howell. From there, where else could I go by train? Is there a line to Lansing? Traverse City? Are there plans in Howell to make those happen? How does well does this proposal go over in Howell or Brighton? Are people in those cities discussing their chance to ride into Ann Arbor or are we simply following the "build it and they will come" mantra?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

Its hub and spoke. Every light rail stop is a hub, the spokes are fed by some mode of transportation, it may be your own vehicle. But yes, other lines need to be developed, like Detroit to Lansing, with a stop at the Wally route, for instance.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

Tell you what Mr. Mayor aka DDA lobbiests aka Planning Commissioners running for Council. When downtown Ann Arbor looks like the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville VA and you impose city service levels with population growth limits matching your model city Boulder Colorado then let's talk about your wonderful world of WALLY and the A2 train station. All aboard? No? Then Go Away! Google "charlottesville downtown mall images"

Mr. Me

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

I'm an auto-hating train-loving bicycle nut and even I think this is a huge waste of money. The same goal could be achieved more efficiently by running regular AATA express buses to these towns and/or putting tolls on US23.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

Fred, According to the US Census Bureau, Ann Arbor has a population density of 4,093.9 people per square mile. Salt Lake City has a population density of 1,678.0 people per square mile. SLC has 4 light rail lines, 1 commuter rail line that runs for 80 miles, and they just broke ground on a Streetcar line. And the most expensive form of transit in SLC is the bus. It costs 49 cents per passenger mile to move people by light rail train and 87 cents to move them using a bus. It's not economically practical to move people by bus!

Fred Pettit

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 4:08 p.m.

LongshoreAA Ann Arbor is not SF, Atlanta, Chicago or anywhere near the size needed to make light rail practical or economically efficient. It's a pipe dream of the Mayor and Council who don't know how to think in terms of economic practicality. We waste too much money investigating and planning for their pipe dreams. It's our money not theirs.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

You're comparing Howell to San Francisco? LOL.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

Having lived in the Bay Area (San Franciso Bay Area) both before BART, during its building, and after completion, I can't begin to tell you the joys of mass transit, AND light rail. If buses were the answer, wouldn't SF have invested fully in buses? Trains and buses are miles apart; I commuted from the Richmond (a SF district) to Market St, which was all bus, only to have to get out and walk as buses broke down. Only 6 miles across, yet having to walk 3 miles into town and be on time, was a constant problem. LR is quieter, cleaner and more reliable. I've also lived in Atlanta, WashDC and Chicago --- what on earth is wrong with the geese people of Michigan? If the other reasons don't make sense to you then we could start in on the societal problems and the affluent versus poor argument "What, buses aren't good enough for you?". Try it for a year, LR and bus, then tell me the difference.

Sam S Smith

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:18 p.m.

Stop it about the train NOW! I am all for decreasing oil dependence but the train isn't the answer! If only I had the intelligence I would be inventing affordable technology to increase miles per gas gallon or using no fuels (such as magnets). Why isn't the auto industry doing this now? We should be investing in sciences to do this not some train! We have a lot of fantastic technology! Let's move beyond the outdated train and make autos using gas outdated!


Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

Sam, Both trains & cars were invented in the same century, meaning that by your standards, cars are outdated too. On the other hand, today's trains have more modern technology in them than do our cars. For example, god forbid that a driver has a heart attack, the car continues moving until it hits someone or something. The train on the other hand will automatically stop itself if the engineer is incapacitated for any reason.

Sam S Smith

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 8:05 p.m.

Choo Choo !

Top Cat

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

Maybe I have missed a small detail but I have never seen anything from the Ann Arbor Railroad stating that they have agreed to any of this, even in theory.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

The tracks are now owned by Watco, and it sounds like they're open to talking with the city, though still a little hesitant.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

Can somebody explain why the city seems to be putting so much effort into a train to Livingston County, but SEMCOG's efforts to get Detroit-Dearborn-Airport-Ann Arbor rail service is largely being ignored? One project's to a couple small towns, the other is to the largest city in the state...


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

If I remember right outdoor6709, that was the number of people that use Amtrak to commute to Ann Arbor today, which is not a remotely accurate point of comparison.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Agreed..a train to the airport or Detroit I would use. Howell? Who cares about Howell.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

In a SEMCOG report that is not talked about, SEMCOG reports that ridership on high speed rail from AA to Detroit is 26 riders a day. Not really worth the expense, but it is the government.

Basic Bob

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

The railroad tracks already go to Howell, but not to Metro airport.

Mr. Me

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

But the people in the small towns have less melanin than the people in Detroit-Dearborn.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : noon

Tell me again why we want to be importing anybody from Livingston County in the first place?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

One of the reasons I live here is to be around fewer of the type of people that seem to gravitate toward Livingston County. Sorry.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

All aboard the Tea Party Express!

Basic Bob

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

They are qualified and willing to work.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:57 a.m.

I'm all for the commuter trains anything to get away from dependence on foreign oil.I like the location for the proposed new station, but lots of parking needs to be provided or no one will use it.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

I'm all for reducing dependence on oil too. I just don't think this particular project is worth the money. Not enough bang for the buck.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

I wonder how many thousands of dollars have already been spent on this. Our property taxes are WAY too high. These guys are sitting on such a huge mountain of cash, they've run out of useful things to do with it, and they're just casting about for something really expensive. The city should not own property that costs money and does nothing. Sell that land to someone who has a better idea how to develop (e.g. anybody). Stop daydreaming about trains and lower my property taxes and FIX THE ROADS!!!!!!


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

Yes, and delay Wally a decade or two and build freeway access at Ellsworth and 94 to relieve Washtenaw/Carpenter and S. State which are the busiest and most accident heavy intersections in the county.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

Probably as many as was spent on how to add a lane to the freeway. I wonder if any money was spent on purchasing right of way for expanded freeway.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

"Hieftje said....blah blah blah and he guessed maybe...blah blah blah." He "guessed maybe"? Lets spend 19-35 million dollars on a "guess maybe" ? How does anyone come up with hypothetical number of potential riders who doesn't even know the pool of potential riders?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

In Oregon and Washington State - a 200 mile upgrade cost $800 million or about $2 million a mile, stations and parking lots were in place, signals were in place, it was only roadbed work that needed to be done. Howell is about 35 miles down the train tracks (based on piecing it together in google maps) - or about $70 million for roadbed work. Add station upgrade and rehab for the 7 stops, improved crossing warnings for the 20 odd places the rail crosses a road, upgrade of signals, sidings so that trains could pass each other and run more than 1 train at a time, locomotives and cars...and...and...and... I put the number to get Wally actually up and running at $100,000,000.00 or more. About 3 to 5 times the number the Mayor is using. Can you say lowball?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

Finally, something that makes sense. Now let's not only get Wally going, but a couple of light rail loops in AA... Like Huron - Washtenaw - Stadium to 7th and back to the Wally Station for one, then another that at least goes up and down Main, but maybe into central campus as well...


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 7:17 p.m.

Sarcasm people, sarcasm.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

@LongshoreAA- How you feel that this proposal "makes sense" is beyond me. Regarding your suggestion that we charge a fee for entering the city - that has been shown to discourage low-income drivers only. By taking poorer individuals off the road (reducing that portion of road congestion), you send signals to higher-income individuals (who see less road congestion) to begin using automobiles to commute in. The same dynamic played out in New York with Robert Moses, who believed he only needed to build "one more bridge" into Manhattan to "solve" the traffic problems. Each new bridge temporarily reduced traffic, sending signals to drivers that it was faster to drive, bringing more drivers onto the road, and ultimately negating all of the benefits of the extra bridge.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Light rail nothing. We want a Tomorrowland Monorail!


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

Isn't this what the AATA is for? And don't they have a very limited ridership?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:31 a.m.

Once again, a solution in search of a problem. This city does not need a fixed rail system to service a limited number of commuters, when we have a perfectly serviceable automobile-based infrastructure system working for us right now.

Fred Pettit

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

LongshoreAA We have the resources NOW to be energy independent. The only thing standing in the way is the current administration in Washington with their Pie in the Sky Energy Policy. Wally is a bad idea of the Mayor and Council that won't work. There's nothing to show that people will actually take the train from the north into the city.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

@LongshoreAA: We are on the cusp of fully automated automobiles. Such a development, and the benefits it brings, turns roads into a defacto rail system. We should not be investing in commuter rail infrastructure at this point when the ideal situation involves every individual owning their own personal piece of a fully integrated transportation network.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

Automobiles should only be on the outside of cities. Like London, charge a fee to drive into the city. Mass transit is the way to go, eliminate dependency on the Middle East.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

We can't afford WALLY. Ask the voters if they'd use it or want to pay for it. Oh, wait, the voters aren't the ones who will be using it. It will be outsiders, non-residents. Do we have to have a city income tax to have these non-residents pay for it? We residents sure can't afford it--not with our confiscatory real-estate taxes.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 10:12 p.m.

@DonBee- If he taxes non-residents, people who work here but not live here, it would make me very happy!


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

Thinker - Don't worry, it will give the Mayor the last reason he needs to put a city income tax on the ballot and get it to pass. Another 1 or 2 percent in taxes from your paycheck to go with your property taxes, so the City Council can have more money to play with won't be an issue right?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

"It's also estimated to require $19 million to $35 million in capital costs" In other words nobody knows. Nobody would go to a restaurant and order a meal if they said it will be somewhere between 19 and 35 dollars, we will bill your credit card later. I realize on large projects its hard to zero in on a specific number but if your range is that big it says to me you have no clue.


Fri, Mar 29, 2013 : 2:32 a.m.

@sellers "so say its' $50 million. That is still an order of magnitude less than another highway lane," Could you show us your math? It is 30 miles to Howell. If an additional lane were to be an order of magnitude larger than 50 million - that is 500 million, or 17 million per mile. Is that your claim?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

sellers, US 23 connects to I-75 from the tip of the Mackinac Bridge to Florida. It connects to I-94 from the Blue Water Bridge to Billings Montana. The Wally connects Howell to Ann Arbor. So a third or fourth lane on US 23 may cost a lot more but it serves a much larger segment of the traveling world.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

so say its' $50 million. That is still an order of magnitude less than another highway lane, and it does nothing for creating a sustainable transportation model for the area.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

Craig, that's just the cost for the planners to get their foot in our door. Once we've sunk those costs, the planners and city organizers will hang them around our necks like millstones. We'll be dragged through the process for the sake of completion, regardless of what is likely to be escalating cost overruns and delays.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:22 a.m.

expanding US 23 serves folks head to places other than Ann Arbor (my town) I know its hard for some folks to believe, but we aren't the center of the Universe. I know 3 folks who make that run every day. Only one of them has Ann Arbor as a destination. According to statistics above 1500 riders a day, 1400 of them UofM employees. So let UofM build it. They are the ones with a billions of dollars of cash flow.


Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 2:53 a.m.

DonBee, Nonsense! After 6 PM, going to Trenton the farthest station from Newark, there is a 6:22, a 6:30 express, a 6:32, 6:55, 7:06, 7:22, and on and on. The trains don't run hourly until after midnight.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

Mr Smith - You should work in Newark, NJ, the long distance trains run hourly after 6PM, so at 5:45 the buildings empty and people run down the sidewalks to make the 6PM train, want to talk about a traffic jam, if you are slow on the sidewalk, expect to be stepped on. Don't get in anyone's way on the way to the train. For the first couple of stops south, the train is standing room only, much like the subway, by Princeton the train is much less crowded and pleasant.

Sam S Smith

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

Very, very few of the 1400 employees would use it. Can you imagine how pressured they would be to finish up work to catch the train? Do we want some health care professional hurrying and missing something at the end of their shift to catch a train home? Can you imagine anyone willing to wait 30 minutes to go home on the train or arrive at work 30 minutes early every single day because of the train schedule? This train debacle should be filed in the garbage bin where it belongs!

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:45 a.m.

as I reread it seems a study sited 1300 riders (not 1500 as I wrote) of which 1400 would come from UofM. Hows that for fuzzy numbers?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:18 a.m.

"My way or the railway "... One way or another little johnny will get his choo choo station and his cap ..whos knows with a little luck he just might get Thomas for the cool would that be....


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 11:04 a.m.

We will be able to park thousands of bicycles on this property! Hoo Boy!


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 10:56 a.m.

Yes! Lets guess where commuters come from and spend money. Go figure!


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 10:26 a.m.

Good old Hieftje, throwing out his version of the truth. He states that lane expansion in L.A. and Atlanta did nothing for traffic congestion. Well, while southeast Michigan has had a population decline, L.A. and Atlanta are (were?) two of the fastest and most heavily populated areas. If he can't justify US 23 lane expansion, then he sure as hell cant justify the Ann Arbor People Mover.


Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 2:46 a.m.

DonBee & kmgeb2000, Alas those fuel taxes don't come close to covering the costs of our roads. Mr. Me isn't quite correct in stating that it's being given away for free, but driving is most certainly heavily subsidized. According to, in 2007 we drivers only manged to cover 51% of the costs of our highways. We cover even less of the local streets, which are largely paid for by property taxes, not fuel taxes. DonBee, while some of the fuel taxes do end up in other "questionable" things, including buses and trains, even adding that back into things still only gets us to the point where fuel taxes cover 65% of the costs of our highways. Furthermore, the Federal fuel tax was originally enacted back in 1932 by then President Herbert Hoover for the purpose of helping to pay down our national debt. Congress & President Eisenhower diverted that money into the newly created Highway Trust Fund to pay for Ike's dream of the Interstate Highway System. However the 1956 Highway Act called for that money to return to its original purpose either upon completion of the initial system or 1972, whichever came first. Instead, Congress continues to divert those funds to the highways.

Anthony Clark

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

I love the part where Hieftje "guessed" at how many people come into the city to work from the north. So we're going to fund a new commuter rail system based on a guess?


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

Mr. Me - The vast majority of the cost of building and maintaining "US" and "I" designated roads comes from fuel taxes. Those same taxes have been diverted to provide money for "M" designated roads in Michigan, bike paths, rail right of way upgrades and other purposes. The people who drive, pay for the roads at that level and many non-roads for people who don't want to use motor vehicles. There is nothing free about roads, and it one of the few services the government offers that is mostly covered by user fees (fuel taxes). If you want to talk about free or almost free - lets talk about buses - where 80% or more of the cost is covered by monies that don't come directly from the users. Trains are also subsidized. CNN just did a piece on trains which amazed me.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

@Mr. Me: I've paid for the road already in taxes and will be paying in the future, why should I pay to use it? Up keep? Again that's why I pay taxes. This may sound strange to some, but I have no problem with paying taxes as long as they simply are not funneled to some corporation. Living in a civil society involves paying taxes, and I prefer the civil society approach. Explain the free part of your statement "When you give something away for free, people use too much of it." Having worked for both Cities and Engineering companies it was never free from any perspective. One of the uses of taxes is to build infrastructure - like roads, sewers, community wastewater systems, water treatment & distribution systems. Also, like Indiana our Governor would simply sell it to a private company (which is basically fascism - but thats somehow OK in todays twisted world).

Mr. Me

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 12:19 p.m.

It isn't just population. When you give something away for free, people use too much of it. Adding lanes just increases the amount of roadway the government is giving away and in less time than you think, more people move farther away and traffic is just as bad. This has been proven lots of times and not just in fast-growing cities. But the solution is NOT a boondoggle railway, it's TOLLS ON THE HIGHWAY, especially during rush hour.


Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 10:26 a.m.

*two of the fastest growing and most heavily populated areas