WALLY commuter rail denied $25 million federal grant; AATA remains hopeful
The proposed north-south commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell known as WALLY apparently was turned down for a $25 million federal grant but organizers remain hopeful.
Michael Benham, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority strategic planner, said AATA has not received any "formal notification" that its request for Tiger II funds was denied, but recipients, including the East Stadium Bridges Improvement Project, were announced and did not include WALLY.
"(The Stadium Bridge) was a priority project," Benham said. "I think Ann Arbor is happier to get the Stadium Bridge funding (now) than to get the WALLY funding."
WALLY, which would be operated by AATA, has now been denied Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding twice. The first denied request was for a $32.4 million grant. The recent $25 million request would have represented the "remaining funding requirements," Benham said.
Benham said after its first rejection for the federal funds, the U.S. Department of Transportation gave the WALLY project an "extremely high rating," but said there were "too many projects chasing too few funds," at the time. He said he suspects there will be a similar explanation this time.
"I don't see this as any kind of negative rating (from USDOT)," he said.
The primary purpose for WALLY is to help ease congestion on US-23 and "promote economic development in Livingston and Washtenaw counties," where Howell and Ann Arbor are located, according to the AATA WALLY website. The train would take passengers between the two cities in about 37 minutes, traveling as fast at 60 mph, the website says.
Benham said the WALLY project wheels are still in motion.
"In spite of the Tiger money not coming through, we're continuing to make progress," he said. "The state has done an awful lot to improve the tracks ... There are rail cars that are being (rehabilitated) as we speak. A lot of ingredients are in place, just not all of them."
Benham said there are no pending grant requests for WALLY at this time, but "there are some sources of money (AATA) needs to investigate."
"We've known all along that funding for WALLY would be a challenge," he said. "We're systematically trying all the available funding sources and we're hopeful that at some point we'll be successful."
"We're in this for the long haul," he said.
Heather Lockwood is a reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.