Fuller Road site remains the best spot for a new Ann Arbor transit center
Depending on who you listened to, the new transit center that the city of Ann Arbor wants to build on Fuller Road was either a visionary concept that would propel our city in the the 21st century of transportation, or a glorified parking structure that would primarily benefit the University of Michigan.
That debate is now over. The city and the university have mutually agreed that they can no longer proceed jointly with a parking structure that was to constitute phase 1 of the ambitious plans for the Fuller Road transit station.
The decision makes sense for both parties. Yes, it sets the project back, but it also simplifies the discussion. Going forward, the concept of a new transit center will now have to stand on its own merits -- which it is capable of doing. We believe the case still exists to pursue this concept, and to locate it on Fuller Road even if it is not attached to a five-story parking ramp that’s no longer part of the picture.
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
Last weekend, we offered a guest column from Vivienne Armentrout calling for the city to keep the train station where it is, and City Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, also has said he favors the current Depot Street site. In a poll on AnnArbor.com, more than 900 readers voted, and 52 percent said the city should upgrade the current station, while 34 percent favored the Fuller Road site.
But rehashing a decision that’s already been made would not be productive at this point. According to Amtrak, the current site is no longer even adequate for existing service, let alone the plans for commuter rail and high-speed rail that the new transit center is being designed to accommodate.
For that level of service, the proposed location on Fuller Road, next to the University of Michigan medical complex, makes more sense. It’s a highly visited location and the largest employment center in Ann Arbor. It has proximity to the main campus, North Campus and downtown, and is better located to accommodate bus service to those destinations than the current station. While there are traffic issues that would have to be addressed, they are less of a concern that the potential traffic snarls and shortage of adequate parking that could result on Depot Street.
Beyond that, the city already has invested in planning and infrastructure for the Fuller Road site, including $1.3 million to relocate utility lines. And it now is being offered a $2.8 million federal grant for preliminary work on the project. From both a financial and a logistical standpoint, the city has staked out Fuller Road as the future location of the new transit center and that’s how it should continue to proceed.
That will require a new plan, which the city is working on now. The previous plan, calling for the first phase of the project to include a 977-space parking structure at a cost of $40 million, was recently scrapped after the federal government informed the city that money spent on the structure would not count toward the local funding match that will be needed for the transit center. As a result, U-M will build the parking ramp elsewhere and the city will proceed with long-term planning of the transit center separate from that.
There were many details regarding phase 1 that hadn’t been worked out yet, and in a past editorial, we had reserved final judgment on the project until those plans were laid out. In the same way, we now reserve judgment until a new plan has been developed, but we continue to be open to the concept, which is being supported by the U-M, Amtrak, the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Rail Administration.
One of the biggest questions now is how the city would fund its share of the costs, now that a university-financed parking structure will not be the source of matching funds. The early planning for the transit center dates back to an era that also brought us the new Justice Center and the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue - a pair of undertakings that cost nearly $100 million between them.
In the current economy, there is no public appetite for massive local spending on building projects and City Council seems to understand that, as evidenced by its refusal last year to proceed with a proposed hotel/conference center because of financial risks it posed for the city. Many citizens view the transit center concept with equal, if not greater, skepticism.
We look forward to seeing a new plan that lays out how the city can realize this project within its current financial means, and its ability to show that will be every bit as important as demonstrating the viability of the commuter and high-speed rail service that the new transit center is intended to allow.
Editor’s note: This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at AnnArbor.com. Marsha Chamberlin and David R. Lampe, who serve as community members on our board, did not participate in our deliberations on this editorial.