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Posted on Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

Should Ann Arbor spend $550K for next phase of work on new Amtrak train station?

By Ryan J. Stanton


The parking lot on Fuller Road where Ann Arbor officials would like to see a new Amtrak station built in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

Photo courtesy of city of Ann Arbor

The Ann Arbor City Council Monday night will consider transferring $550,000 from the city's general fund cash reserves to fund the next phase of work on planning a new train station in the city.

The resolution, which is being co-sponsored by four council members, also outlines a process for putting the question of a new Amtrak station on a future election ballot. But before voters get to have a say, the city would continue spending money on the project.

The $550,000 is needed as a local match for a $2.8 million federal grant the city received to study building a new train station somewhere in Ann Arbor. The city's preferred site is along Fuller Road on the footprint of a surface parking lot in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The city's 2012-13 budget already included $307,781 as a local match for the $2.8 million federal grant. The $307,781 was for items the city thought would serve as a local match, but city officials are now learning they will not serve as a match, so the $550,000 is on top of the budgeted amount.

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded the city a $2.8 million high-speed rail grant for conceptual planning, environmental documentation and preliminary engineering related to what's being called Ann Arbor Station. The completion of those tasks will allow for future final design and construction of an improved intercity passenger rail station in Ann Arbor.

Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, said he has reasonable confidence the resolution will win approval.

He's sponsoring it along with Mayor John Hieftje and Council Members Sabra Briere and Marcia Higgins. With support from Council Members Sandi Smith, Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall and Tony Derezinski — four other allies of the mayor — it would have the eight votes needed.

The resolution would direct the city administrator to seek alternative funding for $300,000 of the $550,000 local match from other eligible local partners — such as the University of Michigan or the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority — that might be interested in sharing the cost.

AATA CEO Michael Ford told last week his agency is not in a financial position to contribute to the Ann Arbor Station project, and U-M spokesman Jim Kosteva said he wasn't aware of any conversations between the university and the city on the matter.

Downtown Development Authority Director Susan Pollay also said this past week that to her knowledge no one at the DDA had been contacted about it, either.

Hieftje detailed his vision for funding a new train station earlier this year, painting a hypothetical scenario where Ann Arbor could get a new $30 million train station and the city's share of the cost would be less than $3 million.

Monday's meeting starts at 7 p.m. on the second floor of city hall, which is at the corner of Huron and Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

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.



Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

The reason that Fuller Rd is a better location is that people can walk to major employment centers, like the medical complex, unlike with the present location. Unlike cars (GM is still losing money on its $37k plug-in hybrids), trains are easily run off of the grid. Mass transit is a radical departure from how things have been done previously in SE MI, but as I look at traffic on M14 and Huron Ave and the decline of urban cores, I think that departure is long overdue!


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

A better station is needed but not in Fuller Park. The DTE remediation site north of the current rail station has lots of potential and is closer to downtown, has better access to freeways, and only a few blocks from campus. Maybe the tunnel idea could be worked into an upgraded station.


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

$550,000 for planning? Are you serious? I'll bet the consultants are drooling over the chance to score some more easy money. I wonder if any of the consulting firms have a connection to the DDA?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

put lights on all crosswalks first. start with stadium blvd. started one project finish it first.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:35 p.m.

Why is there no option in the poll to go ahead and not have voter approval? Seems like that is missing. If its park land where was all the fuss when the parking lot went up on it. I really do not care about this that much other than two things: The price of oil is described in research documents as "volatile." Instability in the Middle East (like right now) can have a devastating effect on oil costs at the drop of a pin (bomb) which we see can happen quite quickly. Should some devastating happen and oil becomes rare, those who have a good alternate transit system will be glad they have it. Not saying this is my prediction but I think you have to look far into the future and consider what could happen in the coming decades and start laying some groundwork. Oil prices are not the only issue. Note that auto prices are climbing quickly too, due to MPG regulations. Sure we can avoid oil crisis by driving electric cars but who can afford them?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:05 p.m.

Who can afford a new train station? Especially when we already have one? Those are LOTS more expensive than electric cars. How much will a ticket on the train be? Do you know? They don't either.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:11 p.m.

Is this the Mayor's attempt to get "something" passed before he loses his majority in November? Are we simply being asked to build a monument to the Mayor? That what this feels like to me.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

Any claim that even hints at the possibility of this being a good idea because of public transit being "green" and reducing CO2 emissions is basically just insulting the intelligence of the listener/reader. How green is it to build a new station when one exists and is fully functional 100 yards away? And if it CONTINUES to be suggested that Fuller Park is where a new one is built, that's even MORE ridiculous. This is an insult. More so even than the already shameful (and perhaps criminal) waste of money. They have already spent millions of your dollars on this. People should already have been fired and/or voted out over this.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

In my opinion the members of City Council have a fiduciary responsibility to the People of ann Arbor to use our money in our best interests. The People made their position on acceptable uses of parkland clear in prior votes -- no repurposing of parkland for non-park purposes without a vote of the People. In my opinion spending money for a purpose that is contrary to the expressed intention of the People is a violation of that fiduciary responsibility. Briefly, it is wrong to spend money on something we've told Council is unacceptable. Ask permission before spending money.

Basic Bob

Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 9:56 a.m.

I think you're reading the tea leaves incorrectly. The city can't SELL park land without voter approval, but that doesn't prevent it from building on it and leasing it out indefinitely. In this case they have already repurposed it - it is a gravel parking lot. If they want to convert it from a gravel non-park to a concrete and asphalt non-park, I don't have a problem with it. But I would rather they just build it in Ypsi and close the Ann Arbor station. They can turn the old station into a another restaurant.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.

Rather than spend close to $800,000 as matching funds for a study about a new train station that won't be part of any mass transit plan, the city would be wiser to set their sites on something like "The Commute of the Future." This is about buses that are more like trains. Mike Garfield of The Ecology Center should be aware of this movement, which is much easier to implement: And, in the meantime, the city should fix the sidewalk/bike path that was destroyed in the sewer boondoggle project. If I lived in Southwest Ann Arbor, which clearly needs an upgrade to their sewer system, I'd be really ticked off. The city can find money for pet projects but nothing practical like utilities.

Jack Campbell

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

We have little police presence, horrible roads, and a pension crisis in this city. It is NOT time to spend money on this kind of fluff.


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 8:47 a.m.

No one is forcing our city leaders to address and resolve these issues. Until the Ann Arbor voters wake up and hold our city leaders accountable, they will continue to follow their personal agendas. Guaranteed!

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Mike Garfield, director of the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, is among those lobbying for passage of the resolution on Monday's agenda. Here's a letter he sent to council today: PART 1 Dear Mayor Hieftje and Members of the Ann Arbor City Council, The Ecology Center supports the resolution on tonight's agenda regarding the Ann Arbor Station – as proposed by Councilmembers Taylor, Briere, and Higgins, and Mayor Hieftje – and we urge you to vote for it. We believe that the expansion of mass transit is one of the most important things the City of Ann Arbor can do for the environment. Transit reduces smog, soot, CO2, and other air pollutants that would otherwise impair people's health and worsen climate change. The proposal to locate a train station and multi-modal facility at Fuller Park would create a critical transit hub at the site of the largest employment center in Washtenaw County. It would facilitate bus travel to and from major destinations in the city, and is a linchpin in the long-standing efforts to connect Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti and the rest of southeast Michigan with commuter rail. Before tonight, however, we were unable to support the plan.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:22 p.m.

This wouldn't expand mass transportation. It would just relocate the station. It's a leap of imagination to belief that people who don't use Amtrak now would use the new station. Connecting bus service to the current station can be improved and that may boost mass transit usage, but how does a new station (and the loss of parkland) accomplish that?

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

PART 2 The Ecology Center has been a leading advocate for the City parkland acquisition millage, every time it has been on the ballot. We were one of many groups that fought to protect the landmark oak trees from the University's North Campus expansion plans in the early 1990s. I was personally involved in the negotiations that resulted in the land swap between the City and the University, part of which led to the City's lease of space in Fuller Park to U-M for parking. Under the circumstances, this was a reasonable use of City parkland, and one that made no longer-term obligations to the site. It may be legal to build a parking structure or multi-modal station on city parkland, but it was not what voters thought they were approving when they voted – overwhelmingly, each time – for parkland acquisition millages. If the City wants to build a non-park facility, like a train station or multi-modal station, no matter how great the public benefits, then the City owes it to voters to seek their approval first. If the City is going to make a long-term commitment to "reprogramming" this space, then voters should be asked their support. Tonight's resolution ensures that the City will maintain its commitment to parks, and potentially removes the conflict between two of our community's great key values. We urge you to support the resolution.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

Rather the feds spend money on this than more war on other countries, so I vote yes. Any money we can get from them is a YES YES YES.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:40 p.m.

Mokay Just WHERE do you think that federal money comes from? I would hate to see how your household budget looks!

Dog Guy

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

Mokay, the money the feds are spending is my grandkids' wages, so NO NO NO.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

There needs to be a program in order for Ann Arbor to apply for a grant. While I agree about not spending money on wars (and using ample money for rehab and benefits who have served), that doesn't mean the money will be available for a train station.

Larry Baird

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

As reported, the city already spent $307,781 in the 2012-2013 budget that has been DISALLOWED as a qualifying match by the federal government. Does anyone wonder why even the most recent expenditures were disallowed? City council needs to ask some tough questions tonight rather than continuing to write blank checks: - At this point, has the city been able to "leverage" a single penny spent so far? - Are we basically starting from scratch in terms of qualifying local dollars? - How much of taxpayer dollars have now been spent on transportation related projects, such as Ann Arbor station, WALLY, the Connector study and the county wide AATA expansion plan? I agree that continued station funding and the vote are two separate and distinct issues that should not be rolled into one resolution.

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

Thank you for the reference to the earlier story. I thought the mayor might know of some new magic source of Federal funds. Instead, he is pointing to the same grant that is building the Dearborn station. That grant, like the city's grant, was a one-time lucky happenstance because the high-speed rail money (HSPIR) allocated to Florida was refused by their governor. The HSPIR money was then reallocated to other states, including Michigan. The HSPIR program was killed by Congress. It will not be back in the near future. No more money there. To my knowledge, there is no Federal grant program now for building stations. Further, the cost of new facilities for our existing Amtrak line (the Wolverine) is being shifted to the state of Michigan. Federal transportation funding is very complex but it is inaccurate to say "The completion of those tasks will allow for future final design and construction of an improved intercity passenger rail station in Ann Arbor.". The correct phrasing would be "the completion of those tasks would allow the city to submit a future grant to continue with construction of a train station". Completion of the current proposal does not guarantee any new grants, only the ability to submit a new one - but to where? What program? The mayor has never explained that.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:15 p.m.

Unfortunately, when she ran for a council seat from her ward, not enough voters saw how good she'd be (or just didn't bother voting) for Council.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Can we write you in for mayor?

Top Cat

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

Since there is all this money slopping around, how about hiring a few more cops.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

I think that would be using the wrong " bucket "

Jack Eaton

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

"The city's 2012-13 budget already included $307,781 as a local match for the $2.8 million federal grant. The $307,781 was for items the city thought would serve as a local match, but city officials are now learning they will not serve as a match, so the $550,000 is on top of the budgeted amount." $307,781 plus $550,000 equals $857,781 in this one budget year. Add that to the seven or eight hundred thousand already spent planning the Fuller Road parking structure and the $1.2 million spent moving the underground utilities at that site and all of a sudden you're talking real money. "Hieftje detailed his vision for funding a new train station earlier this year, painting a hypothetical scenario where Ann Arbor could get a new $30 million train station and the city's share of the cost would be less than $3 million." The linked article points out that the Mayor is merely hoping that others will contribute to the $6 million local share. This article makes clear that the other players have little interest in covering the local share of this project. Even assuming that the City could limit its share to $3 million, aren't there many other more important items we could spend $3 million on? I would like to rebuild our safety services, or perhaps this money could be used to address neighborhood flooding. Let Amtrak build its own train station.

Sam S Smith

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

58% are for no spending or waiting before spending the money. Mayor and city counsel are you paying attention?


Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

OR 64% are for voting and moving forward. Depends on how you interpret the polls. The majority, 43%, want to move forward immediately.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

Spending our hard earned money on a personal project such as this is just not right.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

"The $550,000 is needed as a local match for a $2.8 million federal grant the city received to study building a new train station somewhere in Ann Arbor." It's been a long day for me, but am I reading that right? $3.5 million to study building a train station?

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

Yes, but the city will have to put in $760,000 to get the full $2.8 million. The amount being suggested is only a partial match.

Rita Mitchell

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

Please hold voting on the poll. Sorry to say that the poll questions do not address the issues adequately. The resolution under consideration is unclear. We do not know whether the referendum referenced in the resolution addresses a train station, or the location of where such a proposed train station would be. Read the resolution yourself, and see whether you can determine what is being proposed: Once on the legislation site, click on "legislation details, with text" to view the pdf of the resolution.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

Why do we need a new train station.? It's like the library...the current facility is just fine. Aren't there only 3 daily trains that arrive and depart this station? It's hardly Grand Central Station. I take the train about 6 times per year, usually during school breaks and I never have a problem finding a parking spot. Parking is free, so I hardly mind walking across the bridge from the lot!