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Posted on Sun, Aug 14, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

Mayor Hieftje needs a better, more detailed plan for the Fuller Road Station

By Guest Column

In his July 27 five-page letter on Fuller Road Station, Mayor John Hieftje pointed far down the train tracks to commuter and “higher speed” rail travel. We must not let our attention be distracted from overall costs and components of the project that have little to do with mass transit. His letter paints a “green” picture that obscures the realities. The project is really two functionally unrelated elements — a parking garage for University of Michigan employees and a proposed train station. What are the costs, risks, and benefits of the proposed project for Ann Arbor taxpayers?

Rita Mitchell.jpg

Rita Mitchell

On funding, the mayor states that, “The FRS Phases I and II can be built without any significant upfront cost to the city.” What about at least $700,000 already paid to consultants, plus the equivalent in city overhead cost for legal, engineering, administrative and planning staff time spent on FRS to-date? Are these costs not significant?

Additional associated costs for Phase I, the parking structure, include: • $1.3 million for recently approved sewer, water and storm drain relocations for FRS, that were not rated as high priority Capital Improvements, • unspecified costs for significant roadway changes to Fuller Road, • more than $2 million for design and construction of a roundabout at Fuller/Maiden Lane/E. Medical Center Drive, • the unidentified value of more than 10 acres of parkland in the Huron River valley and the destruction of trees and other natural features.

Subsequent to Phase I, costs for construction of a train station, boarding platforms, rail sidings, an elevated walkway and other elements are estimated to add at least $75 million to this major project. No plan has been presented that shows how the City could meet this financial obligation. If hoped-for grants are not available after Phase I, we will have … only a parking structure.

The mayor’s letter states, “Under a plan that is still being worked out, the city will own FRS and the city’s portion of the costs will be made up over time from funds generated by parking spaces.”

The mayor failed to explain that while Phase I has the university’s commitment to fund 78 percent of the total $43 million cost of the parking structure, the city’s 22 percent share is $10 million that the city does not have. Funding that expense would require either taking on long-term debt or further reducing funds for other essential services. He did not explain the use of street, water and sewer funds for this project.

The mayor’s letter mentions the Border to Border non-motorized Trail, yet plans to complete it are excluded from the project, despite multiple requests from the cycling community. Instead of improving nearby bicycle trails, more than 100 bicycle hoops will be installed as part of the parking structure. Why would a bicyclist choose to bike to a parking structure, and then ride a bus to a destination? Biking directly to a destination makes most sense.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Fuller_Road_Station_1.jpg

A sketch of the proposed Fuller Road Station

The Fuller Road Station will increase traffic in the already-congested area of Fuller Road. Currently, the university leases 250 surface spaces Monday through Friday, 10 hours a day (one shift). The new garage will house almost 1,000 cars for 24/7. Plans include adding floors, for a total of up to 1,600 cars. More than 500 buses per day will clog the area. Options for green space will be traded for a parking garage that is expected to stand for 75 years. Our gain: traffic and air pollution.

The mayor’s letter indicates Amtrak interest and support for a new train station. There is no agreement for Amtrak to provide funding. Words of support do not equal funding support. Given current congressional funding problems, grant coverage of the significant Fuller Road Station costs is questionable. Grants usually do not cover the millions needed for operations.

Before proceeding with any additional funding requests of the city, or with additional construction, the mayor should provide detailed answers to the following questions:

1. What is the business plan for FRS?

2. What are the details of costs, funding sources, and timing of the overall project, including Phase I and subsequent phases?

3. Should the city own and operate a train station?

4. Is it fiscally responsible to own and operate a parking garage, when 78 percent of it will be used primarily by the university?

5. How is the cost of the land addressed in the project-funding plan?

6. How does the city benefit from yet another parking structure?

While looking forward, let’s prepare for fewer cars clogging our city. Let’s avoid a financial train wreck due to an expensive and outdated parking structure. Fuller Road Station is a complex proposal. A sound financial plan is needed before committing more than $120 million of public funds. The community deserves more than pro forma presentations. A robust, interactive public discussion with council members is needed before undertaking this precedent-setting proposal.

Rita Mitchell is an environmental activist and member of Protect Ann Arbor Parks, a citizen group advocating preservation of parkland in Ann Arbor and a public process and/or vote for any sale, change of use or loss of Parkland.


Kai Petainen

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

and UofM answered... Heather Rice told me: "To reiterate from the response OSEH Director Steve Benedict provided to you on August 4, 2011 via email - U-M does not use phosphoric acid for the cleaning of parking lots." Steve Benedict told me: "U-M does not use phosphoric acid for the cleaning of parking lots." As such, one of my concerns has been about the use of phosphoric acid, and as I trust what UofM told me, then I take it at their word and as a promise that it was not and will not be used at the Fuller lot (or other lots). I should note, some have told me that phosphoric acid is one of the products listed under the EPCRA Act (Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act). As such, we would have a right to know if it's being used, or if it was used. I'm not a lawyer, nor is this a threat, but from what I've read of that act, there are serious fines for violations of it and of phosphoric acid going into that river. From this perspective, I am in more agreement with the environmental aspects of this project, and as the mayor noted to me that the sewer that's being built is better than the one that is in place, from this angle... I am happy of what I heard and you'll hear less of me complaining about the project. There are other issues to this project, but I'll allow the others to debate about those matters. I'm actually thankful that the mayor and the UofM gave me some clarification on these matters. I'm also thankful that DPS has a new chief, that they are collaborating more with the AAPD, and that they are communicating with the public. The police failed at solving this criminal act, hopefully they have better luck at solving more serious criminal local acts. This controversial project should be put to a vote. Let Ann Arbor decide and hopefully more turnout for this vote than the other election. I respect whoever wins the vote.

Kai Petainen

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

to start, you can read about the phosphoric acid here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> when the huron spill happened, the AAFD found an 88% confidence of being phosphoric acid. it doesn't mean that mineral oils or petroleum wasn't in the river, it just means that their test found that probability of that substance. other stuff could have been in the river as well. phosphors can pollute and create the ugly algae in gallup park. phosphoric acid can be used for a variety of things, but it can be used in construction, cleaning oil tanks and even medical purposes. one of the theories at the time of the spill, was with regard to construction and a nearby parking lot. in the UofM police report, heather rice was asked about the use of phosphoric acid at a UofM parking lot and the DPS report states: &quot;Heather Rice is the Senior OSEH rep for the storm water management, sanitary sewer system discharge, surface water quality, and soil erosion control programs. Heather reported that there is a strict restriction on the usage of phosphoric acid on construction sites. Most of the time, OSEH will deny a companies request to use phosphoric acid on a restoration projects here at the University&quot; Now, if you read that carefully, it's neither a confirmation nor denial of the use of phosphoric acid at parking lots. Its merely a statement that they have a strict restriction on the usage. So, when I heard about the Fuller lot being built... the obvious question became.... does UofM use phosphoric acid at parking lots? if so... then the Fuller lot could become a dumping ground of phosphoric acid into the Huron River. so, i asked UofM... and.... (sorry, there is a limit to how much i can type)

Kai Petainen

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

my concern about the station is with regard to pollution. there are other concerns, but mine deals with pollution. i must add that i had the chance to chat with the mayor about my concerns and he responded. i also had a chance to chat with UofM and they responded as well. i'm more in favor of the parking lot then i used to be, but i still have concerns. those concerns are best voiced by others who know much more than i do about this project. first off. uofm has not solved the petroleum/acid spill that occurred near this location, and that spill flowed from the hospital area to gallup park for hours. it is unsolved. since it is unsolved, i have no guarantee that this sort of event would not happen again and it could be quite possible that someone could use the parking lot to convieniently dump petroleum or some other chemical into the river. i'll call the station a lot, since it's easier to call it that, but feel free to call it a station/structure/whatever... although i have been a critic, i also like to address those criticisms when i get answers...

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 1:47 p.m.

Maybe The Mayor, if he's not too busy with his U of Michigan funded teaching job, can respond point by point to this article?


Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 10:57 a.m.

I agree with the writer 100%!

Stephen Landes

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

Note: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Take a look at the map at the above website and the density of rail and road connections between at Main/Depot and Main/M-14. Not only do we have the main rail line here, but a crossing of the Ann Arbor Railroad, a business route along Main Street, M-14, and a direct route between the Main/Depot intersection and the UM Hospital. The most critical aspect in making an intermodal facility work is density of the network. In this case the North Main area between Depot and M-14 is far superior to the Fuller Road location. Look closely at the existing land usage in the area and I think you will see that this is a much better location for development that could surround an intermodal facility than the proposed Fuller Road location. In addition, with some cooperation between WALLY and the Ann Arbor Railroad the WALLY route could be continued through downtown Ann Arbor to the south side of town and the businesses that are located there. Over time, and if demand exists, the WALLY route could be expanded farther south -- not possible with the current Fuller Road proposal. The current proposal virtually REQUIRES that the North-South route terminate at the Hospital and ONLY run to the North. Are sure we cant do better than the current proposal?

Stephen Landes

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

Vivienne -- I've looked at all the maps I can to see which rails the WALLY system would use. The existing A2 Railroad looks like it is on the path that the WALLY website describes. I can't imagine they are going to invest in another set of tracks to Livingston county. Shared service on existing rails seems most likely to me.

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 12:50 p.m.

But the Ann Arbor Railroad has not indicated interest in collaborating.

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

There are other plans for the Fuller Road Station unrelated to the commuter rail. The Connector Study routes high-capacity transit through the FRS node also. See <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> (this is a big download) to see how the FRS acts as a hinge on a route between North and Central Campus, plus points south.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 2:35 a.m.

A very well-written and thoughtful piece. Thank you, Rita. I haven't seen as many details of this proposal as the writer apparently has, so the idea of a traffic circle at the E. Medical Center Drive/MaidenLane/Fuller Rd intersection is troubling news. Traffic circles seem to work fairly well with small intersections and low traffic volume, but I can't imagine rush hour traffic going through that kind of intersection with frequent emergency vehicles and doing so smoothly. I believe a better location for this intermodal passenger facility (train/bus/car) would be on North Main Street where the &quot;Art Train&quot; used to be parked. Why is this a better location? 1) proximity to the expressway entrances and exits, 2) auto traffic kept out of the congested Medical Center area, 3) opportunities for redeveloping the North Main area with parking structures and transportation facilities which are similar to their historic uses, and 4) straight line approach to downtown and an easier route to the new bus station on 5th and William. I'm sure others can come up with even more reasons why this location would be superior to the proposed facility. We've been handed this current proposal as if this is the best possible location and as if we shouldn't consider anything else. Maybe this is &quot;best&quot; for the interests of the U of M Hospital administration and some in City government, but that doesn't mean it is really the best location. What we should have is a proper public discussion of the entire issue of access and transportation in the City of Ann Arbor. By proper I mean one that truly involves citizens in the discussion and analysis of alternatives rather than a series of meetings that are held over time, but lightly published, which simply gives the &quot;powers that be&quot; a fig leaf to hide behind. In my opinion the entire issue of transportation, intermodal facilities, transportation needs, and preferred alternatives has not been handled in a truly inclusive


Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Yours is a very interesting idea, though I am wondering about putting more ugly stuff along a stretch of river. There already is a lot of ugly stuff there, but river side improvement can be very attractive. The problem here is the rail already in place on the river and that really screws up the idea of developing an area that could be handsomely developed. Also, if a parking/train structure were built on N. Main, the city may have a little more trouble getting UM dollars to fund it. Many UM hospital employees already have to park a long way to get to work. If they still have to buy a parking permit, and ride a bus from Art Train area to the hospital that adds on a lot more time than walking from a lot close to the workplace and that means getting off to work a lot earlier. A traffic circle at E. Med/Maiden Ln/Fuller? Say it ain't so!! I really wish the city would first make a final decision on the location instead of continuing with the planning of the entire project. However it is decided, by council or a ballot referendum, just get it done. If the public says no, then the U will proceed with their parking issues on UM land, either at perhaps Mitchell Field or better, where lot M-29 is. They could put a structure there with a tunnel under the rail road tracks which would provide to people who park there a dry walkway to the hospital. Then the mayor and council could continue on the train project with funding solely on the cities back.

Tom Whitaker

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 1:36 a.m.

The City administration wants the fed to accept and reimburse it for an environmental assessment that the City already bought and paid for, done by the firm, JJR. Problem is, JJR also designed the $1.3 million sewer relocation project, which is really just the first phase of Fuller Road Station (which is plastered across the drawings). This is a conflict of interest in violation of federal regulations for federally-funded projects which state that any firm that has a financial stake in a project is not eligible to perform the environmental assessment. Interesting to note that, on the cover, the City and MDOT are listed as the preparers of the study submitted to the feds, but on Page 46, titled &quot;List of Preparers,&quot; is a short list of JJR employees. It's also interesting to note that the JJR report appears to avoid using the term &quot;Fuller Park&quot; to describe the site. The map in their report labels it only as &quot;Fuller Road Parking Lot.&quot; Could it be because a designated park raises the bar on the environmental impact study and requires the funding federal agency to prove that there are &quot;no reasonable alternatives&quot; to building a project on what the regulations define as &quot;protected lands?&quot; Ironically, the JJR report rules out several other sites along the railroad because they are designated as parks! Yet, the City's lease of the temporary parking lot to UM calls the site Fuller Park, not Fuller Road Parking Lot. Lease revenues accrue to the Parks Department and the Parks Department is listed as the maintenance contact. So why isn't it the site called Fuller Park in the JJR study? The $700,000 of general fund money (rinsed through another bucket) already blown on this parking structure could have kept several police officers and firefighters on duty. The $1.3 million spent on relocating a perfectly good sewer out of the way of this parking structure could have been spent on correcting flooding issues or other high pri


Sun, Aug 14, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

Many good questions here. Not only does the city want to own and operate a train station but the mayor's handpicked AATA board would like to operate the commuter rail component as well. So the pending $450 million AATA &quot;smart plan&quot; millage tax increase request is significant to this discussion as well.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Aug 14, 2011 : 8:57 p.m.

This is an excellent summary of some of the points that need to be considered in regard to the Fuller Road Station. Another one is a careful review of the Mayor's claims about commuter rail coming to the Ann Arbor area. Though his letter does not quite spell this out, there are two commuter rail systems still under consideration. One is the East-West system, or Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail. That, according to the website at SEMCOG <a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> who is managing the project, is supposed to operational by the fall of 2010. Oops. Now information discussed recently at AATA meetings is that the first demonstration will be in the fall of 2013. The E-W rail is the one supposed to go to Fuller Road Station. The second one, WALLY, is actually supposed to require a second train station to be built at Barton. I recently did a lengthy blog post <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> on developments with that system.


Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

Vivenne, I was following the WALLY project for a while and the last I knew it was stalled by lack of funding. I live west of A2 and am frustrated that no E/W line is under consideration west of A2 when a rail line exists, and both Chelsea and Dexter have historic train depots. I think it would be fantastic to put them back to their original use. Both communities have large numbers of commuters to A2. And Dexter has a row of empty remodeled buildings near the depot that might be occupied by if that area of town became a transit hub. My preference has always been more local commuter transit systems as opposed to long distance higher speed trains. My thinking is that there are trends afoot, volatile cost of oil, proposals to raise fuel taxes, increases in licensing and registration fees, and fuel efficiency standards that in the near future could make these costs spike to the level where people may resort to mass transit. If that happens, WALLY might be resurrected and could attract more positive support. Political upheaval in the mid-east and which political party is in control in the US can quickly ignite any of these issues. Wasn't WALLY being considered as a solution to the morning and afternoon gridlock as an alternative to widening both N/S lanes of US-23? So if WALLY is off the table, isn't that project back on it? I am sure you are aware that these higher fees in Europe is a primary reason why mass transit, walking and bicycling are much more popular than here in the US. And that is the difference between the US and much of the world. In the US we subsidize driving, it other countries they don't. And they are healthy and have cleaner air. Also driving an auto has been tied to obesity and getting people out of cars and on their feet will improve the overall health of Americans and assist in lowering health care costs. I really think these projects need serious consideration because cities that lead in planning may benefit quite well in the future.


Sun, Aug 14, 2011 : 7:46 p.m.

I have been curious about the Mayor's enthusiasm over a high speed train. I know the President is enthusiastic too. Maybe the Mayor is trying to follow his lead. To toss in a curve ball in regard to cost, here is an interesting &quot;oops&quot; article on another high speed train: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And not just in the US: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I am not anti rail or anti mass transit. I believe the city and state would be better off with local commuter rail. Lots of A2 workers commute to work and with the volatility of gasoline prices, riding the train to work may become more attractive. How often do we go to Chicago, anyway?


Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

Oh, okay, excuse me, I should have said, &quot;higher speed&quot; trains, the term used in the article. I am sure previous articles described them as high speed. I do not care what the speed is, it has been promoted as faster than the current trains and the President is big on high speed trains like China has. My point simply is that more local commuter trains may be a good idea. There are several reasons that indicate driving is becoming more expensive and in a few years it could be so expensive that many people my consider alternate (mass) transportation. Either way it may be so expensive that it won't save anyone money anyway.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 2:36 a.m.

There is nothing in the existing proposals that is truly &quot;high speed&quot;. At best we will get back to 50% of what used to be considered high speed rail in the 1930's.

Bob Carlin

Sun, Aug 14, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

This piece brings up important issues for our city. Hopefully, more people will take an interest in what's being proposed. When a city spends a lot of money unwisely, it's bad for most of the people who live there. The train station isn't the first foolish project backed by city officials. There was the conference center on the library lot, the new city hall, and two underground parking lots. Each of the projects was backed by the mayor. In fact, in order to convince the public that the underground parking next to the library was a good plan, the mayor promised us that it would be paid for from parking revenues. That's simply not true. Tax money is being used to pay off the bonds. Slow down Mr. Mayor!

George Gaston

Sun, Aug 14, 2011 : 7:12 p.m.

For a lot more information about this subject, please go to the website: