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Posted on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

Ann Arbor mayor talks roads, transit and job growth in unofficial 'state of the city' address

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje addresses the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor on Wednesday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Mayor John Hieftje used part of his unofficial "state of the city" address to the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor on Wednesday to discuss the condition of city streets.

"We did get behind on roads, but I want to give you a little hope there," Hieftje told the crowd gathered inside the Michigan Union. "I think we're catching up pretty fast."

Hieftje received some pushback on that issue, as not everyone in the audience was convinced the city is doing enough to address crumbling city streets.

"Maybe you're on some different streets than I'm on," said Rotarian Doug Freeth, calling attention to poor conditions along Ann Arbor-Saline Road and East Stadium Boulevard.


Hieftje fields a question after his speech to the Rotary Club on Wednesday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Another member of the audience complained about the condition of Huron Street, which Hieftje pointed out is managed by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

"Again, the city is trying to catch up, and I think after next year we will have caught up," he said, suggesting the city's road quality reports show improving conditions.

Hieftje said the city got behind on fixing streets while the city was saving up street millage dollars to rebuild the Stadium bridges. But after nearly $14 million in federal funds became available for the bridge project, the city was able to turn its attention back to repaving streets.

The mayor relayed figures on how many lane miles of streets were repaved or reconstructed in recent years — 3.6 miles in 2009, 5.3 miles in 2010, and 4.7 miles in 2011.

"But in 2012, spending went from $8.74 million to $18.34 million," he said. "And we thought that in 2012 we probably did about as much road construction as you can do in one year, because the orange barrels were up everywhere and it was difficult last summer to get around town."

Hieftje added, "We're going to do it again this year, and with a few carrying over from last year, there'll be 30 miles repaved in the city this summer, so watch out for those orange barrels."

Aside from roads, Hieftje took the opportunity on Wednesday to talk about the city's finances, public safety, economic development, the Greenbelt Program and transportation. His remarks were upbeat as he painted an optimistic outlook for the city as it continues to grow.

Hieftje pointed out Ann Arbor's population is growing — up 2,000-plus residents from 2010 to 2012 — and University of Michigan economists have predicted the county will add 12,961 new jobs from 2013 to 2015. That's in addition to the 11,978 jobs added from 2010 to 2012.

"We continue to have the lowest unemployment in the state," Hieftje said, touting the growing hub of tech companies that have moved into downtown Ann Arbor.

Hieftje said the formation of Ann Arbor SPARK has made a big difference on the economic development front in Ann Arbor, and the arrival of a Google office downtown put a "stake in the ground" for some of the high-tech companies like Barracuda Networks that have followed.


"I was just having a conversation with the brokers who are handling the Borders building and they think there's probably 1,000 tech workers right on that Liberty corridor right now that didn't use to be there just a few years ago," Hieftje said.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I was just having a conversation with the brokers who are handling the Borders building and they think there's probably 1,000 tech workers right on that Liberty corridor right now that didn't use to be there just a few years ago," Hieftje said.

"The interesting thing about the tech workers who are coming into our city is they provide us with some young people to bridge the gap that we've always had in our city between college students and, frankly, what was an aging population," Hieftje said. "We needed to prepare our city to hand off to another generation of people who are willing to step up and serve."

Noting that many of the tech workers he talked about are typically in the 25 to 38 age range, Hieftje said he's happy to see an influx of young people coming into Ann Arbor. But with a growing population and job base comes challenges, he said, pointing out there's growing traffic congestion.

"The university has a new parking structure going up down on Maiden Lane," he noted. "And if you look back over the last couple of decades, you find that every two or three years the city or university is having to build a parking structure."

Hieftje said he doesn't believe Ann Arbor would have the robust activity it has downtown without the parking that's been provided, but he would prefer not to build another parking structure.

"I think we could all agree we want to continue to have robust job growth in our city, and the solution that I see is probably increased and better transit," he said.

Hieftje said the city is going to see serious traffic gridlock by 2020 if more investments aren't made in public transit in the coming years. If the city doesn't take action, he said, the job growth that's expected for Ann Arbor is probably going to go somewhere else.

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.



Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

The roads have seen a huge improvement since 2004 when I first came to Ann Arbor... Things are getting better especially for downtown now that it has working professionals who looks to solutions instead of complainers and whiners....

Larry Ryan

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

The state cut payments to the cities (and schools!) and their tax revenues were flat or down. I bet every city in the state has made deep cuts to cope with the economy, including Ann Arbor. But city employee's will still need to keep up with inflation or they will move on, they still need health care and the cost of everything else will go up over time. Seems like in a town like A2 or Ypsilanti, with so much land off the tax roles, (or any town) there has to be some growth of the tax base. I wonder if those who write we don't need jobs, already have good jobs, pensions, etc.

Steve Bean

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 8:25 p.m.

Inflation increases property values, which increases city revenues. Why do you believe we would need job growth on top of that?

Roger Kuhlman

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

If we value our county's natural environment, we will oppose the growth of population and jobs in Ann Arbor and the rest of Washtenaw County. We do not need more suburban and exurban sprawl here because it does nothing but destroy more of the county's biodiversity, native ecoystems, and natural habitats. Installing costly mass transit systems in the county will not change that fact one iota. Does Ann Arbor have real environmentalists or just a bunch of environmental smilly-face placard bearers?

Steve Bean

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

Infill within the city limits is another possibility, but that raises another question: what's the vacancy rate of existing housing in the city/area? If it's low, how much housing would need to be built to serve the desired/projected population increase and at what public cost to infrastructure upgrades? If it's low, is that a reason behind the desire for more job growth?


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

I keep hearing these higher ups talking about how great SPARK is. Can anyone, and I mean ANYONE give some real actual data on this? Not "they helped increase vigorous growth" or "they promote local business activity." I'm talking someone actually saying "I own this business, and SPARK loaned me money to grow at a better rate than a bank, and made sure I paid it back, and I now have 10 employees, and it's because of SPARK's assistance." REAL, ACTUAL, PROVABLE things. Does anyone have ANY of that?


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 10:08 p.m.

Thanks for the suggestion, I did check the site. I see they now have TWO new offices. Wow, Spark grows faster than the businesses they help. I saw one tetimonial that was not completely vague ("SPARK helped us get a $40,000 microloan"), and a lot of very vague claims. What does SPARK have to do with this: "Faurecia, an automotive components manufacturer headquartered in Nanterre, France, chose to invest in the Ann Arbor region because of its unique pool of skilled workers, proximity to our customer base, and strategic location globally. Having a plant located in the region positions Faurecia to achieve our objective of becoming the largest automotive interior supplier in North America."

Ben Freed

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

There are a number of testimonials on SPARKs website from local companies they have helped.


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

Have you checked the SPARK website?

Steve Bean

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:33 a.m.

No link to the Rotary Club of AA site? (NIce story there, btw, on my Small Group Communication prof of decades ago, Al Story. He and I got to laughing once in class and couldn't stop.) Why our local government (which ostensibly represents the residents—some of whom do own businesses in the city, and many of whom are employed, either inside the city or elsewhere), sees economic development as one of its goals/responsibilities is something that I've yet to see a satisfactory explanation for. Typically attempts at such consist of rationalizations, limited considerations, biased perspectives, and circular thinking. The mayor's statements about traffic congestion and necessary transportation investments that would come with more job growth apparently don't register as a manufactured problem in need of a solution, resulting from—the real problem—desire for more jobs in the city. The perceived alternative, it seems, is some sort of decline, while a dynamic equilibrium (movement around a certain level) isn't seen as possible for some reason. Maybe, as Brad suggests above, the Rotary's Four-Way Test is in order. Even the population numbers aren't placed into the context of world, national, or even state levels and trends. More is better in the eyes of the growth-is-good proponents, regardless. John and the Rotarians needn't worry about traffic congestion in 2020, though. The net energy of fossil fuels will have declined below both economic and physical return on investment by then. For that matter, the desired job growth won't materialize either (in the usual sense—everyone will have plenty to do, though). The stock market downturn, following the deflating markets around the globe, will see to that. Will that unfolding reality alter the stated desire for growth? Not likely. Is the state of the city a state of denial? For the sake of completeness, what if more jobs do materialize and "go elsewhere"? What loss would it really be for us in Ann Arbor?

Frustrated in A2

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:22 a.m.

I wonder if the mayor owns a suit or just a bunch of sport coats. Hmmmm???


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2 a.m.

Quality also matters when fixing the roads. They did the Geddes Rd a year or so ago, but with the water main breaks they've had to tear it up so many times it is a disaster in parts again.

Gale Logan

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:16 a.m.

Isn't that on the county portion where city water extends to the township?

craig stolefield

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 12:15 a.m.

Misty; If you followed the conversation at the time, the city tried for three or four years to obtain federal/state funding for the stadium bridges. As I understand it, this is the way big bridge projects are funded. When it looked like the fed $$ were not coming through, the city began to save local, A2 money for the whole project. So that meant there was a lot less to spend on the local roads for 3/4 years. So when the feds did come through (thank you Dingell) that meant the city could spend the saved local money on the local roads and they are doing that. I don't see how this is "buck passing."


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 10:53 p.m.

Why do politicians like to pass the buck? Now it is fixing the Stadium Bridge the reason roads are not getting done even though the Feds helped with that project. What a piece of work


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

And that is not new. That point was made clear in the city for several years.


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Saving to fix the bridges was the reasons roads WERE not getting done. Now that the Feds have helped with the bridges, the roads ARE getting done. Was that not clear?


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

I agree with the Mayor. The City of Ann Arbor doesn't need anymore parking structures, parking lots, or larger roads for that matter. Everything that exists simply needs to be maintained. That way, in the future, as investments in public transportation increase and more people see that transit is a viable option in and around the urban core of Washtenaw County, the City can begin to reduce the number of parking lots/structures and fill those voids with economic development, not just room for cars.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:40 p.m.

"Another member of the audience complained about the condition of Huron Street, which Hieftje pointed out is managed by the Michigan Department of Transportation." Huron, which runs through the city, is managed by MDOT? HUH? Which Huron is the mayor talking about here?


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 9:08 a.m.

I've often wondered if they asked permission from the state to put the pedestrian crossings on Huron. Especially the one where that pedestrian was hurt a couple months back.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:59 p.m.

Huron St in the City of Ann Arbor is I-94BR AND US-23BR, which means they are owned and maintained by the State, not the City.

Boo Radley

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:50 p.m.

Huron Street is the I-94 Business loop to downtown Ann Arbor, which make it a state trunk line highway.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

"Hieftje said the city got behind on fixing streets while the city was saving up street millage dollars to rebuild the Stadium bridges. But after nearly $14 million in federal funds became available for the bridge project, the city was able to turn its attention back to repaving streets." Mr Mayor forgot to mention that the city skimmed funds from the street millage dollars to fund the PUBLIC ART projects!

Gale Logan

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:04 a.m.

Yea, at the most, $140,000. What maybe 200 feet of pavement?


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

"We did get behind on roads, but I want to give you a little hope there," Hieftje told the crowd gathered inside the Michigan Union. "I think we're catching up pretty fast." HUH? What planet does Hieftje live on? He clearly doesn't live in AA. He's behind on the 39,999 potholes that are unfilled in the city.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

Here's some further info shared with me by the mayor, which he got from Craig Hupy, the city's public services administrator. Lane miles: 2009 = 3.6 2010 = 5.34 2011 = 4.72 2112 = 16.90 2013 = 30.00 * *Numbers for 2013 are estimated. Since the construction window almost always bridges over fiscal years, some of the lane miles completed in FY 2013 were actually done during the 2012 construction season. Also, a larger number of lane miles may be indicative of more street resurfacing projects and less street reconstruction projects.


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Isn't it rather obvious that "lane miles" refers to miles of a lane, whereas "road miles" would refer to miles of an entire road? Why do you think this is confusing?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

"Lane miles" are the same as "road miles"? Or not? This "statistic" appears to be carefully and cleverly constructed to make it appear as if more is being done than in reality. A two lane road, or a four lane road would result in those numbers of miles being divided in two or by four. A five lane or three lane road divided by five or three, right?

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 12:12 a.m.

No, that would not be counted as resurfacing. That's just plain pothole patching.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

Ryan, I hope when he talks about resurfacing, he doesn't just mean when City workers throw some asphalt in a pothole.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:06 p.m.

Here's a report I had a while back in which a commercial broker with Colliers International talks about some of the changes in the downtown that Hieftje is referencing here.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:22 p.m.

Does it add up to 1,000 "tech workers"? Or even close?

craig stolefield

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:57 p.m.

He was quoting a broker and they might exaggerate a bit but thinking about it.... Barracuda had over 200 when they went into the Borders building and have been hiring steadily, 2 a week or so for awhile. Don't know if Prime Research is in there yet but seems like they were over 100 to begin with. Word on the street is Barracuda is taking over the basement of Borders too. Google maybe 300? Then Menlo, seems like they are over 100. So that's 600 - 650 and growing. Then there are a bunch of small Companies. The brokers could be close.

Bryan Ellinger

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

The city's quick work resurfacing Birch Hollow Drive west of Stone School Road was a welcome event. Bring on the orange barrels!


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

30 miles of repaved road in the city this summer? I'd love to see that list because what's been published isn't even close, unless he's counting M-14 and I-94 re-paving and multiplying by 2 (because they're lane roads)! How stupid does he think we are? Stadium Blvd between 7th and the bridge is a nightmare, but the last city engineer quote I saw was that this stretch wasn't even in any near term plans. Where are the priorities?


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

Wish the Mayor would do a free public forum, there are many concerns that the public would like to address Mr. Hieftje. This is just another example of money wasted.....

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:29 a.m.

I don't think there's a lack of opportunity to communicate your concerns. The mayor has open office hours every Friday, and you're free to address the mayor and council at every City Council meeting. The council meets at 7 p.m. on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month on the second floor of city hall, 301 E. Huron St. You need to sign up in advance to speak at the start of the meeting, or you can speak without signing up at the end of every meeting, and you can speak without signing up on every public hearing. Contact information for the mayor and council can be found here, too:

craig stolefield

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 12:20 a.m.

Money wasted? How? BTW - I think the mayor has open office hours every week, you could go and see him in person.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

1,000 tech workers in 9 blocks..who's he kidding , sounds like his honor is skirting a $ 25 fine....


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

I would like to see a little more intelligence used before we go off have cocked on so called road improvements. The round about at state/ Ellsworth is going to be a disaster because without another one at Ellsworth/airport and also Airport/state...traffic is still not going to flow freely. I have yet to hear anyone who uses this intersection frequently, say something optimistic about it.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 9:55 p.m.

The Ellsworth and State intersection is not in the City of Ann Arbor. That's Pittsfield Township, which means that intersection is maintained by Washtenaw County Road Commission.

craig stolefield

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

State & Ellsworth is a county project.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

Can we get some kind of reality check on that "1,000 tech worker" thing? Not just people who work at tech companies - actual tech workers.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

Hi Brad, I can't give you exact numbers, but three companies alone in Google, Barracuda Networks, and Prime Research (once they move into the top floor of the old Borders space) will make up approximately 700 "tech company" jobs in the area. There are a number of additional tech companies in the downtown core including Mobiata, Menlo Innovations, and Deepfield. Additionally, a number of tech startups are housed in the Ann Arbor SPARK incubator and the TechArb incubator, both of which are on East Liberty Street. We do not have breakdowns of what specific employees do at the companies (they are private sector companies) but a significant portion of those jobs are devoted to software development and other technological pursuits. I agree though that the number is worth looking into, we will see if we can get you some more hard information.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

I just noticed in background of the second photo that #1 of the Rotary "four-way test" is: "Is it the TRUTH?" 1,000??


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:06 p.m.

Here comes the transit tax. Fixing the roads is part of a transit solution. As is making sure what we pay now in transit dollars is well spent.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 7:23 p.m.

Did the Mayor mention that having a decent local media outlet was important? Because the ones we have now are all a joke!!! Including this one!! lol


Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

I just moved here within the last few months and I have become an avid reader of Ann Arbor News. Reading the news that these hard working journalists do has made me feel like an entrenched member of the community after just a few months. To offer a comparison, I moved from Lansing and I feel that Ann Arbor News is more informative by leaps and bounds than the Lansing State Journal, although they have suffered from money problems that have hurt them. Not to mention, many online news sources charge a monthly fee for access, which Ann Arbor News does not. So, Noyfbo, stop being so negative.

Kai Petainen

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

Noyfbo, I don't think it's a joke. Over the past few years, the Ann Arbor news has improved a lot. They seem to be covering nearly everything that's going on in the city. They even started speaking about 1,4 Dioxane again, and I thought they had given up on that. There are a few concerns that people raise from time to time, but I'd give them a solid A for reporting. Not an A+, but an A. They don't get an A+ as I think they should make a 1 sentence reminder at the bottom of each article on a certain topic, that they have a strong relationship with that topic (that way people can decide to take what they are saying with more or less market spin to it). Even when they insert their own thoughts into the articles, I have no problem with that at all. Part of the news business is about adding some commentary. They have also improved on how they manage the comment boards, some of the photography absolutely amazes me, and I have no idea how Ryan stays awake for long city hall sessions. His work isn't easy work and it's quite hard to do. I was once a critic, but this website has created a fan in me. And just in case you are wondering.... not one of them asked me to write this or to respond. And you may not know it... but they even talk about things that are ... what I would consider... material.... with publicly traded companies.... before the national press finds out -- in otherwords.... they get the scoop.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

Do you have any constructive criticism to offer?