Christopher Taylor: 'Effort to bring a new station to Ann Arbor remains very much alive'
- Previous coverage: Ann Arbor halts Fuller Road Station plans as U-M seeks to build new parking elsewhere
Ann Arbor officials announced Friday that plans to build a multi-modal Fuller Road Station have been halted after a federal funding requirements changed the assumptions about financing.
The University of Michigan, a partner in planning a $40 million parking structure as part of the development, is now pursuing another option for building a facility for additional employee parking.
The city, meanwhile, is reorganizing its approach to developing the site as a train and bus station.
Christoper Taylor, a City Council member representing Ward 3, sent a letter to his constituents on Saturday, explaining aspects of the change.
"The change regarding match eligibility has killed the current proposal, but the need and effort to bring a new station to Ann Arbor remains very much alive," he wrote.
"Many have worked long and hard on Fuller Road Station. We now know that some of that work has been for naught and that is deeply frustrating, but much of that work will continue to pay dividends."
Major John Hieftje also said as part of Friday's announcement that the city would continue to pursue the Fuller Road station.
Here is Taylor's full update to city residents:
I am writing to inform you about important developments regarding Fuller Road Station. The University and the City have suspended discussions regarding Phase I (Parking) and now the City is moving forward to attract the federal rail dollars necessary to build Phase II (Rail). Although these changes will slow and complicate the process, I remain optimistic that this needed piece of transportation infrastructure will be built.
As many of you know, Fuller Road Station is a proposed multi-modal transit center to the south of Fuller Road, down the hill from the University of Michigan Medical Center - land that has been leased to the University for use as a parking lot since 1993. For at least two years now, the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor have worked together to design a multi-modal facility that would address the University’s parking needs and create a modern train station to support higher speed rail and commuter transit.
As I’ve discussed with you before, the proposal to create Fuller Road Station was viewed by proponents as synergistic. The plan was to have the University pay for the construction of City-owned, University-used parking, with those construction monies later being available as the local match for a federal grant to build the train station. In this scenario, the University would have satisfied its urgent need for Medical Center parking, while the City would have built a train station for next to no money down. Opponents discounted the likelihood of rail traffic coming to Southeastern Michigan and viewed the proposal as an improper constructive sale of parkland to the University. These proposals have now changed.
The City had in the past been coordinating with the Federal Transit Authority. Recently, however, we were instructed to instead interface with the Federal Rail Authority (“FRA”). This change has on the one hand been fruitful - the City has been awarded a $2.8M grant from FRA to conduct environmental assessment and design work for a new station, both of which are prerequisites to receiving federal construction dollars. On the other hand, we have been told by FRA that pre-award construction monies cannot now be used for the federal match - in other words, any money spent by the University to build a parking structure could not be used as local match for a federal grant. The City and the University worked in earnest to keep the current proposal on track in light of this new information, but in the end it was not possible.
So, what does this mean moving forward?
The change regarding match eligibility has killed the current proposal, but the need and effort to bring a new station to Ann Arbor remains very much alive. Many have worked long and hard on Fuller Road Station. We now know that some of that work has been for naught and that is deeply frustrating, but much of that work will continue to pay dividends.
Improved rail service will come to Michigan. The State recently has purchased the Norfolk-Southern rail lines, which will enable the construction of a second track parallel to the existing line as well as other infrastructure and track improvements that will make passenger rail practical. Just this past week, Amtrak announced that it had received permission to run trains at 110 mph in the crucial Kalamazoo - Porter, IN corridor.
A multi-modal facility at this location is considered ideal by transit professionals due to its proximity to Ann Arbor’s downtown and the University’s Medical Center, which employs more than 20,000 people daily and is Washtenaw County’s most visited location with over 2M visitors per year. The City has received important letters and indications of support from Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Ann Arbor still has the momentum and means to win federal monies to build at Fuller Road. Over the next few months, the City will spend its FRA grant monies to analyze and advance the project. At the completion of that process, there will be a new multi-modal design available for public discussion and evaluation. That design will include parking appropriate for a multi-modal facility, but it will not be designed to provide Medical Center parking on the same scale as before. After that public engagement and once we all together settle upon a design that wins FRA approval, I am confident that the City successfully will work with the State Department of Transportation, Amtrak, AATA, and the University of Michigan to create a financing plan sufficient to satisfy local match requirements without strain to the City’s budget.
I believe that we will receive this operational and financial cooperation not because these other entities are altruistic, but because each of these organizations has a strong self-interest in the success of Fuller Road Station. For us in Ann Arbor, the environmental, economic, and quality-of-life benefits of a properly placed, fully functional, multi-modal transit station are simply too compelling to ignore. I look forward to continuing to work towards that end.