Future gateway to Ann Arbor: City and University of Michigan partnering on Fuller Road transportation center project
The city of Ann Arbor and University of Michigan have agreed to partner on a $541,717 effort to come up with conceptual plans for a new transportation center on Fuller Road - part of a larger, multimillion-dollar project being hailed as the “future gateway to Ann Arbor.”
The Ann Arbor City Council voted 9-0 Monday night to approve a contract with JJR LLC for the first phase of engineering services for the intermodal transit station along the south side of Fuller Road, just east of East Medical Center Drive and north of the University of Michigan Medical Center.
JJR will help complete conceptual designs and an environmental assessment, as well as conduct a detailed transportation study. City officials said conceptual plans should be ready by October, and public input will be sought in the coming months.
Hank Baier, the university's associate vice president, sent City Administrator Roger Fraser a letter Monday indicating the university will fund a majority of the first phase of design work for a total of $327,733, while the city picks up $213,985.
The entire project could cost $50 million to $60 million, which includes building out commuter rail platforms and an elevated sky bridge, said Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor's transportation program manager.
“This is the first substantive step toward making the east-west rail with a connection spot in Ann Arbor a reality," said Councilman Leigh Greden, one of the sponsor's of Monday's resolution. "It's also important because we have substantial University of Michigan support behind the project. When this project is complete, this will reduce traffic congestion, benefit the environment, increase people coming to town to use the hospital and to use other businesses, and it will reduce the number of new parking spaces that we need."
The city owns the land for the proposed transportation center along Fuller Road. City officials have determined the area is uniquely suited for development; it's next to the existing Amtrak passenger rail service corridor, which is proposed for future commuter rail service and has been designated as a national high-speed corridor between Detroit and Chicago.
The site is accessible to bus transport via Fuller and East Medical Center Drive, and is adjacent to the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border Trail. The city and university are planning to jointly develop the facility, currently referred to as the Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station.
Cooper said this marks "the beginning of the transportation system for this community for the 21st century." He said many are familiar with the current Amtrak service that allows people to come and go from Ann Arbor, but a new mode of transit is on its way to the region.
"In October of next year, we expect commuter rail, an entirely different type of service," Cooper said. "It will connect the city of Ann Arbor with the city of Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit on a very fast and frequent service."
In its first phase of development, the proposed station will include a bus stop and parking structure with about 900 parking spaces and a surface parking lot with about 100 parking spaces.
Future phases may include additional parking, connections to rail platforms, a rail waiting/ticketing area, an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and university bus terminal, skywalk connections to the hospital and other elements.
“This will be potentially the very new gateway for many people arriving into Ann Arbor," said Councilwoman Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward. "It may be their first vision of Ann Arbor, and if you take a look at the two buildings right now that are next to each other that have been train stations in our history - you look at what the Gandy Dancer is versus the Amtrak building now - I would like to think that we look a little bit closer toward something that has some significance of a building like the Gandy Dancer.”
The university had plans for a separate parking structure on Wall Street that are now being put on hold, city officials said Monday.
Councilwoman Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said the Fuller Road project is a good compromise for neighbors who were trying to keep a parking garage out of their neighborhood.
Cooper said a lot of the details - like whether to tunnel under or bridge over the existing tracks to provide access to the medical complex - will be worked out in the conceptual planning stages in the coming months.
Mayor John Hieftje suggested plans include bicycle facilities with lockers and showers.
Cooper indicated parking accommodations may be needed for as many as 1,000 to 1,500 vehicles.
"We recognize that for commuter rail to work, some people will choose to drive to the train station and will need to park their vehicle there, whether it's for a trip to Chicago to see a show, or whether it's for their daily commute to points east,” he said.
Cooper said preliminary site work could commence in late 2010 or early 2011, with the project complete as early as June 2012. Project leaders are meeting with the Michigan Department of Transportation and SEMCOG this week to talk about the timetables.
Cooper said the city is in talks with Amtrak about relocating its services from Depot Street to Fuller Road as part of the project. As of right now, the city's expectation is that a demonstration service expected to start in October 2010 will be calling upon the existing Amtrak station.
"That presents a significant series of challenges for access to those trains for passengers that will be heading in an easterly direction as well as for those coming to Ann Arbor," Cooper said. "We're going to need to have a transportation system able to meet trains and move those people to their ultimate destinations, so relocating the Amtrak service to this will eliminate some of the need for local transportation.
“I think this truly is a new mode of access for people to come to Ann Arbor," added Cooper. "They'll be right at the center of a transportation terminal where they'll have buses to circulate them throughout the city. There's mention of signature transit services. That may be a bus rapid transit or trolley system that would enable travelers to quickly and comfortably travel throughout the primary destinations - to our downtown, the South State Street corridor, up Plymouth Road to the northeast.”
Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.