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Posted on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:20 p.m.

WALLY commuter rail denied $25 million federal grant; AATA remains hopeful

By Heather Lockwood

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 Reach her at or follow her on Twitter.


Jay Thomas

Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 11:12 a.m.

The stadium bridge was a necessity... the "Wally" is not.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

Bummer, Dingell was hoping to get this one! Instead of Michigan getting.83 back on every $1.00 we send to Washington, he would have been able to proudly claim we get.831 for every dollar we send to Washington! If Dingell would have gotten this one, he would have had a slick publicity stunt and said how hard he is working for us and making sure we get our "fair share."


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 5:57 a.m.

Braggslaw, you're a little off base. The right-of-way already exists and is owned by the Great Lakes Central and the Ann Arbor Railroad. They're already upgrading road crossings and roadbed. And Federated Railways, the parent company of the Great Lakes Central, already owns the required commuter cars and I'm betting already has the employees.


Sat, Oct 23, 2010 : 9:01 p.m.

25 million to widen the lanes for the rail. 500 million to build the rail and buy trains. 50 million in maintenance a year 500 million to fund the pension plans for the rail workers. No thanks, I will stick to my car


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 8:07 p.m.

Livingston County COURANT NEWS - September 2010 An overwhelming NO from Livingston County to support a Train: Courant WALLY: Commuter Train Survey Results Q01: Would you use a commuter train running from Howell to Ann Arbor 3 times in the morning and 3 times in the evening? Yes11% NO78% Unsure 11% Q02: Do you feel government funds should be used to start up or operate a commuter train? Yes23% NO 66% Unsure 11% Q03: Are you willing to pay additional taxes or assessments to help fund or subsidize a com- muter train? Yes 11% NO86% Unsure 3% Q04: Would you rather see government funds spent on improving US-23 and our local Inter- changes? YES86% No9% Unsure 5%


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 7:20 p.m.

This article doesn't really tell the whole story. Livingston County said they wouldn't pitch in for WALLY - "Conservative voter base doesn't typically approve these types of taxes". The only way to make the annual costs work is a millage imposed on Washtenaw County property owners. AATA board of directors has approved a resolution agreeing to serve as the designated authority for the WALLY commuter rail project. And AATA is currently trying to determine the best month to present a millage to the voters for a "Washtenaw transportation project". So do Washtenaw County homeowners want to pay MORE taxes so that Livingston County workers have the option of taking the train? I am certainly not willing to subsidize Livingston County's choices to live far away from where they work.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 1:22 p.m.

... the mayor has many boneheaded ideas, and a big smiley-face grin to boot. He and WALLY are best pals - WALLY promised to let him blow the horn on the choo choo (if it ever gets built)! Makes you wonder about the gullibility of the electorate here. Nowhere but Ann Arbor!


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 1:04 p.m.

Another reason for "lanes" before trains is the tourism industry. The third lane added on the north side of Ann Abor's freeway belt (between M-14 to US 23 North) has helped shorten some of the back up of the Friday afternoon "up-north" traffic rush. Extending this third lane further north at least until M-36 would help considerably. A train does not address the tourist traffic which hopefully will continue to grow considerably over the decades to come, especially as budgets are requiring many families to travel closer to home. Here's some state tourist stats from the Pure Michigan website: 2004-2007 Advertising Investment $20 M Generated: Trips 3.8 M Visitor Spending $804.7 M State Taxes $56.4 M Campaign Efficiency: Incremental Trips/Ad $ 0.19 Incremental Visitor Spending /Ad $ $40.29 ROI 2.82:1 The last thing any vacationer wants to do is spend crucial travel time in gridlock. We want people to "discover michigan" but after driving on our roads, how many will want to come back? Our government needs to recognize this fact - that US 23 is a vital tourist artery which deserves far greater priority now and in the future.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 12:27 p.m.

I have to wonder where the Mayor and city Council are coming up with boneheaded ideas.Mr Mayor it is time for you to stop wasting federal tax dollars on stupid ideas.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

People of Ann Arbor we do not need a Rail system in the City.I am blown away all the Mayor's office and the overpaid city council all they have done is build and build parking structures and roundabouts.But streets and sidewalk repair's have and continue to be ignored.The city needs to priortize better.I have to wonder why the mayor is promoting such wasteful american tax dollars on wasteful things.We need to just say no to this wastefulness spending.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

@townie has it right. If you want to live far away from your job, in a rural environment, then get ready to drive and drive. Listening to comments in other stories, I hear that people want to live in the boonies so they can be left alone, with low taxes because they don't want to pay for the expensive infrastructure that goes with a dense community. But some people now don't want to drive. They want a train. First move into town and then we can talk about a train.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 7:41 a.m.

All the supporters of this farce rave about the benefits of mass transit and give nice examples of mass transit in Big Cities. There is not a sufficient popluation to make this joke worth the trouble of building. This is about politicians and bureaucrats trying to increase the size of their little kingdoms and speculators who want to make money in real estate and have the taxpayer foot the bill. Kill the stupid thing once and for all.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 7:11 a.m.

Townie, Most people would LOVE to live right near a good, sustainable job. But how many of us can do that? It would require finding one job that will provide what we need for 10+ years in an area of town that that has consistantly good schools. Even for those of us lucky enough to not be laid off, that just a rare situation. An exception that I can think of are U of M employees. However, this town needs the personal property tax base diversity of other employers besides U of M.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:12 a.m.

What a shame- I could have drove my car to the train station, waited through the delays, made an old lady stand because I'm too lazy to surrender my seat, wound up in a place I did'nt want to go, put in an application at a melon farm, waited for the next train home, then went to the junk yard to replace the hub caps on my car that was vandalized at the train station. What does the math say- Fifty thousand dollar subsidy for the few customers who actually ride?


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

I would never live where I work... The schools are horrible, the taxes are sky-high etc. The business is where it is because of history, but as an American I can choose where to live. Nobody is going to tell me where to live and where to put my kids in school.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 10:52 p.m.

"Relax while a professional driver guides you to work?" Many would be delighted to have such service, and soon, can: The Goog (leveraging a DARPA project which, simply by offering a reward for results, i.e., a prize [instead of lengthy, well funded studies]) has almost perfected the automobile autopilot. When this excellent invention is ready for prime time, it will revolutionize the commute. For better or worse, drivers will have yet another reason to use their own vehicle.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 10:24 p.m.

WALLY may or may not be a feasible idea for repurposing rail lines as limited mass transit. I'd lean in favor of doing it if the line actually had a stop in Brighton, rather than bypassing further to the west. Should it be the case that federal WALLY funding has been shunted aside in favor of providing money for the Stadium bridges, then that is the better choice for the present. Expanded mass transit will be a part of this region's future. The Detroit metro area (of which we're an outlying part) has fallen decades behind numerous other metro regions around the country, as noted earlier by ERMG. ------------ "... This country is broke and spending money on something that will need to be propped up with more tax dollars to survive doesn't pass the smell test...." "... Ask yourself... if you really want to subsidize people commuting to and from Howell." Am pleased and delighted to see conservatives finally becoming fed up with unsustainable socialist subsidies for road construction. Let's just imagine the major tax savings from getting government out of the highway business!

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 10:15 p.m.

I'm not anti-mass transit. I'm anti-WALLY. They commissioned the study. Fair enough. The study showed conclusively it was an ill-conceived idea that would cost the taxpayers tens of thousands per rider per year. But the proponents didn't listen. They took pieces of the study out of context. They lied to the public. And they won't stop until they get their way. If I were a journalist, I'd look into their personal finances and see if they have recently bought up land near the proposed train stations. These are scoundrels who probably need to brought to justice. They have no regard for the common good.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 9:59 p.m.

@Townie said: ""Living green" means living as close to your workplace as possible, not paying to add trains or widen highways for those who choose to live where they have a 25+ mile commute. That is simply not sustainable--economically or environmentally." While if you are single and your job is your only reason to travel, this works. There are problems with this statement: 1) Families may have 2 wage earners with jobs far apart. 2) Children may be enrolled in a school. 3) Jobs may change locations. 4) You may have to travel to different locations on different days of the week. 5) You may have to take a temp job. 6) You may have to work 2 jobs in different locations 7) You may not be able to sell your current house 8) You may have to stay close to a family member to care for them 9) etc. While it is nice to posit that it is possible for everyone to live close to their job, the reality is that in many cases, especially after the upheaval in Michigan over the last decade, not everyone can do this. Many folks would like to commute less, but they can't. Until the Michigan Economy gets back on track, people will do what they have to do to make ends meet. Buses are useful, trains are useful. Both are more useful if they run frequently (say every 30 minutes) for most of the day (say 18 to 19 hours a day) and are quicker and cheaper than driving yourself. If they are clean and people feel safe more people are likely to use them. If they make enough stops that no one has to drive (or bike) more than a few miles to catch them, all the better. On time, every time, no breakdowns - people will come to rely on it. Even better is when there are activities at each stop that draw passengers. If it is purely 1 way commuting, DC has proven that a Share Ride Van is a much better option from a cost and use standpoint. The light rail systems and subways in most major cities work because people want to go from one stop to another, not from most stops to one stop that is the center of the system. The Wally system has a problem because most of the stops are purely to pick up passengers in the morning and drop off in the evening. Even the GO train in Toronto takes people from downtown out to the 'burbs to work in the morning, as well as picking them up.

black canoe

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 9:56 p.m.

Something no one has mentioned with public transportation is the extra time you have to yourself. What would you do with an entire hour to yourself every day? Sleep? Read? Text friends? Relax while a professional driver guides you to work? If you've never had that experience, you don't know what you are missing.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 9:22 p.m.

"Wellllllll Wilbur.": "Time's a comin' when gas will be $5 and 6$ per gallon" "Such subsidies might have made sense when gas was cheap" "...when the gas crunch does hit,..." Eddie regurgitates what 'everyone knows', however: 1. By historic standards, gas is not particularly expensive today, nor is oil. Your dollars are worth less, making nominal commodity prices seem high, but they are high not when priced in terms of other commodities. 2. Subsidies began when gas was relatively more expensive, not when gas was cheap. 3. There will not be any gas crunch. Oil and gas prices are down significantly from their 2008 peaks, and the current deflationary trend, combined with improved efficiencies in petroleum use worldwide, as well as the imminent spread of electric vehicles, assure that oil and oil byproducts will become cheaper in the years ahead. All these trends suggest a single purpose 'commuter train' would enjoy very limited popularity, and would likely be a waste of money. Cheaper gas will ease the transition to the Age of Austerity.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:47 p.m.

"Living green" means living as close to your workplace as possible, not paying to add trains or widen highways for those who choose to live where they have a 25+ mile commute. That is simply not sustainable--economically or environmentally. I don't disagree that widening 23 would be far more expensive, but I don't buy this as an argument FOR the train. If it costs 10 times as much but serves 20 times as many commuters, then maybe it's not such a bad deal after all (if you are simply comparing the two options). Personally, I love the idea of trains, but this is not New York or Boston and the numbers of commuters simply aren't there to support multiple trains (and there's only one track anyway). I can't see this being a viable option for more than a few hundred people a day, whether it's east/west or north/south. No one seems very interested in actually studying those numbers, either. I would rather see the major employers in Ann Arbor fund (with employee contributions) a commuter bus system with nice coaches that have wifi and maybe a coffee vendor on board. Buses, run on biodiesel, would not require any new roads, tracks or other capital costs other than the buses themselves (which could probably be leased or contracted out with existing private firms). A commuter bus system could provide multiple buses from multiple towns in the region at various times. Having this flexibility would allow resources to be allocated where and when they are needed, and give commuters options. Best of all, it would be funded directly by those that benefit directly from it. From what I've read about WALLY, it would be one line with one train at one time and would require huge capital and operating subsidies from ALL taxpayers. Finally, I don't like the concept of the train stimulating even more development out in the boonies. I hear a developer has already purchased land in Whitmore Lake with the idea of creating WAY off-campus housing. Transit-oriented-development in this scenario is simply a new form of suburban sprawl which is why 23 is so clogged to begin with. Don't any of our elected officials and bureaucrats understand this?


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:37 p.m.

@AA cynic You ought to write editorials. Bottom line: "Public transportation is to transport what public toilets are to bathrooms - they can get the job done, but are often unpleasant to use." How succinct is that summation?


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:31 p.m.

Well, roads are also subsidized. Apparently, the Stadium Bridge can't be paid for out of normal coffers. Everyone always notices the subsidy to buses but not the interstate highway system or the air traffic control system that makes flights possible. And, sometimes we're penny-wise, pound foolish. I don't have a strong feeling about Wally, but having good transit helps poor folks get to jobs. And, if it is a good transit system, the middle class also use it. I won't put up the stats for Washington, D.C., but that is a very widely used system across all demographics. Housing/apts is/are even more expensive if they are within walking distance of a metro line.

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:03 p.m.

I regularly do business in a city with a strong bus system and decent train service. I don't have a car in that city, so I ride buses very often, and trains once in a while. They have their advantages, and I am a proponent for some situations (with reservations). Ridership numbers are rarely where the inflated projections predict. Revenue is always short. The systems never self-fund. Why should anyone who lives in ann arbor want to subsidize people commuting in from howell? We already paid extra to not have that commute. Howell is a very nice area, but your decision to live in nature and commute is not my problem. In terms of barriers to adoption, the worst part is sitting anywhere near the people who stink. I mean Really stink. Or, the people who will cough or sneeze with no regard to containing their germs. Those problems don't get much discussion but they are very serious barriers to bus and train use. Most people experience that once and say NO WAY. Has any public transportation system solved that problem?


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 7:11 p.m.

@Cynic2 You can have it... noisy, smelly, hot in the summer months, dubious characters aplenty. I notice that anyone with the means to do so has a car or a limo. Take a look at statistics on all commuters in the NY Metro area. You'll see that those that use mass transit compare favorably to other commuters (drivers, car pool). For instance: Characteristic All Commuters Mass Transit % Man/Prof 39.8 39.7 $75,000+ 22.4 21.8 %Poor 4.8 6.8 The comparison for the Detroit metro area - bus-only is striking. That bus system is unreliable, long waits, etc. so that the only folks riding/using mass transit in the greater Detroit area are poor. Characteristic All Commuters Mass Transit % Man/Prof 35.6 15.3 $75,000+ 15.8 3.1 %Poor 6.5 26.6 Source: ACS, 2009 Table S0802


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:22 p.m.

No way I want my tax dollars spent widening US-23 to the tune of $500 million (the current estimate I believe). Capital costs for WALLY are estimated at $32 million, IIRC, a factor of 10 less. Gee, which do you think would be a better option? BOTH of them require tax payer subsidies. One of them is hugely expensive, hopelessly inefficient, and unsustainable. And guess what, it's not WALLY.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:21 p.m.

The same people who are anti mass transit are the ones who complain about the condition of US23...and yet US23 reached capacity many many years ago. It's now handling way too much traffic and there's no plan to put in all of the extra lanes. Carpenter Road...more lanes the traffic is still horrible. Washtenaw Ave...same story. I could go on forever, but we either figure out a way to fund billions of dollars worth of road work or start looking at reducing the traffic on those roads with mass transit.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:51 p.m.

Good. No boondoggle choo choo. It's ridiculous to think of a ride to and from with bags of stuff. What a joke!


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:27 p.m.

Funny how the city of Brighton was smart enough to see through the choo choo smoke. Time and money would be better spent putting pressure on MDOT and our next governor to eventually get US-23 widened. Also, how can we make the city more attractive, livable and affordable so that these commuters will want to live here/


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

Thank you, God! Folly Wally makes about as much sense as the million dollar Folly Fountain. Not enough population density in either county to realistically support it, even with subsidies up the wazoo. I have used the subway in NYC to get around Manhattan, and to commute from mid-town to the financial district. You can have it... noisy, smelly, hot in the summer months, dubious characters aplenty. I notice that anyone with the means to do so has a car or a limo. I will keep my nice, quiet, private, air conditioned car, thank you. AATA is all the public transport this little town needs... the busses are at least half empty most of the time, anyway, and it takes forever to get anywhere, except maybe to downtown. Try going to Kroger's on AATA, and bringing home more than a couple bags of groceries! Public transportation is to transport what public toilets are to bathrooms - they can get the job done, but are often unpleasant to use.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 4:51 p.m.

Good ol Ed, all that is missing is a "Wellllllll Wilbur." This country is broke and spending money on something that will need to be propped up with more tax dollars to survive doesn't pass the smell test. The Phoenix rail system is a debacle, tax drag, and nobody rides it.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 4:41 p.m.

You know, Atticus, some of us in Livingston County commute into the "big city" of Ann Arbor. The jobs are here, not in Livingston County. On a daily basis, US 23 is clogged and traffic typically moves slowly because US 23 can't accommodate the traffic volume. You want it both ways in Ann Arbor, you want everyone to live green but you oppose commuter trains.

Steve in MI

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 4:37 p.m.

@ERMG and @lisam: right on, both of you. I split time between here and Boston. Out there, people from all walks of life are on the train every day, because it's the best way to get from point A to point B. I ride the T when I'm there because it means that my commute time is productive... I let someone else drive, and I get some work done on the way. Commuter rail DOES require both public and private funding, in much the same way that roads and airports do. Here's hoping that both the Detroit commuter line and WALLY come online soon.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 4:36 p.m.

"Time's a comin' when gas will be $5 and 6$ per gallon and, all of a sudden, today's nattering nabobs of negativism will be wondering why the government didn't have a mass transit system in place." No Ed I will be wondering why someones lives so far away from work and wants everyone else to pay their way. By the way I choose to live within 5 miles of where I work just in case gas does make it to $5 a gallon.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

I so agree with Edwards Muir's Ghost. Whomever doesn't believe many travel from Livington County to Ann Arbor is totally off base. Ever drive US-23 starting around 8:30 a.m. and then get held up in traffic because of an accident on a daily basis? And yes, the price of gasoline. The gas is ALWAYS higher in Livingston County I might add. I was actually looking forward to the idea of a commuter train.

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:58 p.m.

Howell? You mean HOWELL? Really? Trains are *really* expensive. They do not self-fund. Certainly not the construction, and not in operation. They are paid for with taxes, not fares. Ask yourself, and your reps, if you really want to subsidize people commuting to and from Howell. Look to any city that has rail, and the costs. And also the challenges of getting people to use the rail. To suggest that rail is some sort of answer for Michigan is outrageous in this economy.

Stephen Landes

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:57 p.m.

Finally, a good decision from the Feds. I happen to love trains, but I am also realistic enough to know that no mass transit authority is going to run enough trains each day to make giving up a car a practical consideration. Many years ago I thought I was going to be transferred to a working location in Detroit. I was looking forward to this opportunity and thought seriously about selling a car so I could simply take the train. The problem with this approach was that there simply weren't enough trains to make this work with my schedule: what would I do if asked to work over time, needed to stay in town to entertain a client, or simply wanted to stay in town to catch a baseball game? Until the mass transit alternatives offer round the clock transportation -- including weekends -- we will not really be able to make systems like WALLY work.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

I'm amazed that WALLY is still around. It's an ill-conceived project that has absolutely no public support aside from a handful of choo-choo-crazy officials. A tremendous amount of energy has been wasted on an idea that even the most generous of projections would deem a failure. I hope this means the death of the WALLY boondoggle, but these people have never before displayed any common sense, so why expect it now?


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:49 p.m.

maybe if we had commuter rails, we would know people who use them....

scooter dog

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:39 p.m.

Nobody is going to give up their car to ride a train. Just another knee jerk,stupid, money wasteing idea. There is no money to widen US-23 to 6 lanes so what makes you think your going to get any money for a train Wow,When will the circus end.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:36 p.m.

What a waste of money! I have never in my life been on a commuter train, and don't know a of one person who has.

Top Cat

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:27 p.m.

A true breath of fresh air that our Federal money is not being wasted on WALLY the Folly. I hope we are close to the plug being pulled on this sink hole and money pit. If it were really as important as its proponents contend, it would be funded with local and state money.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:22 p.m.

It's too bad that this was not a "shovel-ready project" it would have been good to get some stimulus money here.

Atticus F.

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:16 p.m.

The 'wally' project seemed like a sickening waste of money. I just cant believe their are that many people who are traveling from livingston county.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 2:55 p.m.

well, if forced to make the choice between the Stadium bridge and the WALLY project I think they made the right decision. I do hope that eventually this project gets the green light though.