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Posted on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

WALLY north-south railway project receives federal grant for design

By Amy Biolchini

The proposed north-south railway between Ann Arbor and Howell has received funding for initial design steps after twice being denied federal dollars for the project.


Construction of new siding and storage track takes place in Northfield Township as part of the WALLY project.

File photo Courtesy of AATA

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the Michigan Department of Transportation received a $640,000 grant for the Washtenaw and Livingston Railway (WALLY) project from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

About $105,000 of the money was allocated to a company for engineering and design work at the AATA board’s Aug. 16 meeting, the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported.

The first phase of the project will study Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell for station locations, the Chronicle reported. The WALLY funding is a part of the $52 million in grants doled out by the federal program to communities across the country for 2012.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 2:14 a.m.

This is great news! But we need more and better rail service throughout the Great Lakes Region. We need to link the region's big cities and college towns with high speed rail and commuter service. Like the East Coast, we need to make travel in our region efficient, quick and cheap. On the East Coast you can have breakfast with a professor in Boston; have lunch with a client in New York; and have dinner with an artist or attorney in Philadelphia or D.C. Albeit the Great Lakes region is not as compact as the Northeast Coast, we really need to better link by rail the following cities: Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Erie, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Indianapolis, South Bend, West Lafayette, Bloomington, IN, Chicago, Springfield, Urbana/Champaign, Carbondale, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Rochester, Duluth and Bloomington, MN.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Many of the bloggers are expressing doubt without access to data. Uninformed skepticism is OK, but it should be identified for what it is. It's not a substitute for data. As for the question "what is in Howell", one answer is that it and the other areas are bedroom communities for thousands of UM employees. As for the alternative of widening US23 for more car traffic, it would be interesting to see a budget analysis of that alternative. Such an analysis would need to include building the road, car expenses, importing more oil from the Middle East (or, if you prefer, drilling in the Arctic Ocean where there is little hope of plugging the inevitable leak), contributing toward the next war in the Middle East, and paying the cost of the irreversible climate damage from the CO2.

Unusual Suspect

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

" irreversible climate damage from the CO2." Let's keep strange religions out of this conversation.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

Now would it end at Howell or continue on to Hooterville?


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

We'd hoped for $25M in grants and received $640K? Who's making up the difference?

Ron Granger

Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Romney wants to de-fund Amtrak. Apparently, subsidizing oil companies and highways is okay, but not trains. So all of these various train projects are in significant limbo until after the election. It is so easy and quick to sell off public resources to the highest bidder. But it is much harder to replace them when you realize what a stupid move that was.

Ann English

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

Sounds like this proposed passenger-train line is something that politicians think is best for us, NOT a result of the private sector expressing a desire for. If there were a real consumer demand for this line, it would be sustainable. If government got out of the way, the private sector could build it and maintain it for a lot less money than unaccountable government can. I can already sense their lust for control over us, with this public transportation push. It would make it easier for terrorists to kill many people, all confined to a train, like suicide bombers in buses overseas.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

HOV lanes that switch direction are in use in many cities and might be perfect for 23.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 1 a.m.

Here are TWO questions which need to be answered before considering proceeding with the construction of WALLY: Is it true that the WALLY is anticipated to carry only 1100 commuters in the course of a year, requiring local municipalities (probably just Ann Arbor) to subsidize maintenance and operations for about $1.5 million a year? Will tax payers approve a millage in order to pay for rail service that will not be adequately supported by user fees? Is it true that Ann Arbor Railroad will not allow use of its tracks by the WALLY south of M14? If not resolved, will the WALLY have to build the Ann Arbor station north of M14? Insufficient demand and insufficient revenue will not be a formula for success.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 12:18 a.m.

Funding WALLY is easy. Can you spell Canadian Shale Oil. Can you say NO to the Keystone oil pipeline? In a reversal of strategic intent, the US has begun importing more oil from the unstable Middle East. Mexico and Nicaragua supplies are running out and thanks to BP the US gulf is underproducing. Canada is the last yet most desired oil source but there is insufficient transport. Trains can haul oil. So can trucks over the governor's planned super bridge.

Dog Guy

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

As so many other Ann Arborites, I have always wanted to go to Howell and can hardly wait to be railroaded. The point of such big-ticket government projects is to accomplish nothing while raining tax money on friends and soon-to-be friends.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 12:08 a.m.

Ricky, the people mover failed because the suburbanites refused to build the lines that would have fed into it. It couldn't have anything less to do with 'raining tax money on friends'.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 11:35 p.m.

I love the People Mover! C'mon, picking on The People Mover or anything remotely connected to Detroit is really picking the low hanging fruit. But I get your point. I'm betting the commuter railroad doesn't go to Detroit is because there is just not enough grease in the can to cover all those palms.

Ricardo Queso

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

Hey Joe, try the People Mover in Detoilet.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:45 p.m.

Hey Dog Guy, could you provide an example of a big-ticket government project that has accomplished nothing while raining tax money on friends and soon-to-be friends. Let's confine it to Michigan just to stay on topic. Thanks, bud.

Ricardo Queso

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

Enough of this folly. The addition of a third lane on 23 has already been paid for with many lives.


Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 12:05 a.m.

Opening a third lane would cause drivers to go faster (albeit likely not much), if anything that would cause accidents to get worse and more frequent. I'm with foobar on this one.

Ricardo Queso

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

Sure, let's have more die.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

$500 million. Not with my tax dollars, thank you. It just feeds the sprawl.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

Truly exciting news ....640k into some yahoo's pocket to come up with the prelims of the "railroad to nowhere " Alaska's bridge, we need a big tourist draw to help Michigan out of our rustbelt doldrums and this could be it ....

John S. Armbruster

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 8:06 p.m.

This is a waste of 640K. Sorry choo choo lovers but there is no funding to maintain and operate such a system, much less build it.

Larry Baird

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

The proposed Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter line did not meet the Federal Transit Administration's cost effectiveness requirements and was therefore not eligible for federal funding. The proposed WALLY commuter line may end up with the same federal funding problem – an estimated $7.1 million annual operating cost for 1,200 estimated daily riders. Currently, the State of Michigan already spends about $7 million per year to cover the annual cost for two of the three Amtrak lines running through the state. Starting in 2014, that number will jump by at least $20 million when the state will be expected to start covering the annual operating expenses for all three Amtrak lines. So what part of the state budget is going to get cut to come up with an extra $20 million per year to keep Amtrak's Wolverine line running? Seems like the state should be a little more worried about this problem versus the hypothetical WALLLY line.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 12:09 p.m.

Mr. Semifero, if you are referring to the $7 million in Larry Baird's comment, that would be the net operating cost after fares have already been applied, in other words, above and beyond fares. But that was the amount with Federal Amtrak subsidy in place. Note that WALLY does not go to Brighton. This reduces its value as a commuter line quite a bit. Brighton area residents would have to drive to one of the stations south of the city to pick up the train.

Joe Semifero

Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 10:55 a.m.

Where did the $7.1M for 1200 passengers per day come from? This sounds affordable - $7.1M / ( 1,200 per day x 250 working days a year) = $23.67 per rider per year, or less than 10 cents per rider per day? That seems like it could be contained in fares. Or is this only the federal funding amount needed above other funding amounts from fares and the state? Not sure 1200 cars a day would make that big a dent in the traffic, but it would be a start.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

How about just making US 23 a minimum of 3 lanes between 94 and 96.? I love how they merge 4 lanes of traffic into 2 north of 14, pretty brilliant on someones part.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:27 p.m.

Are you willing to spend $500 million? I'm not. Plus more lanes never solves anything. It just feeds sprawl.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

I have maintained a history of the WALLY project on my blog at that contains a good deal of background information.

Eugene Daneshvar

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 7:30 p.m.

Disclosure: I'm totally pro-mass transit. Every time I get out of the bubble and visit cities that have them I think of how wise the planners were that set them up and what kind of riots broke out at the time. Two points though: 1. For those of you against the service: -Make a reasonable argument with the data and future considerations of city growth. Are you denying that this area is growing or do you want to stop it? Let me know where you live and I'll petition to put a parking garage across the street in your neighborhood instead of mine. -Can you identify when the best time to incorporate mass-transit in a growing a city? Are you against AA and surrounding area growth? It's either mass transit or more parking garages. -Can you cite an example of a mass-transit system elsewhere similar to the one planned that has financially hurt the city? 2. I'm sick of this topic being only brought up around election time. When was the last time we got as grant? Dingell's reelection bid right? We need the whole picture laid out and not bits and pieces wagged in front of us every time they want our vote. We need a central website and an independent party to assess the facts in either case, and the realistic potential funds needed, estimated timeline, and how many more election cycles we'll expect to be hearing updates on this.

Paul Wehr

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

I think, generally, we are all "pro mass-transit." What some of us object to is cramming the square peg in the round hole with public funds. If there was a genuine demand for such a service, operators would be tripping over themselves to provide it, as they did in the 1850s. Since we paved the earth in the 1950s and developed inter-modal, there has been a significantly reduced demand for "last mile" rail, which is why nearly all the local track has been removed. If private equity that specializes in rail wants to take the risk and lose their money (though not how conspicuously absent this has been), then they are welcome to it. But, if an elected official, who doesn't know Shinola about operating a railroad, wants to roll the dice with our money, at zero financial risk to themselves, I'm going to respectfully object to that.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

Answer 1] No more growth in Ann Arbor, surrounding towns, or globally. Every mahor problem is a result of unending "growth". But it is not sustainable. Nor is war iver resources. Family-based economic incentives can quickly reverse growth. Corporations and religions don't like that so politicians waggle empty visions instead. I like trains. We should have this one. So far, only the Eastern corridor trains pay their way in the US. Once upon a time profitable corporations re-invested captial and built America - including railroads. So where are they now? Even the new space companies could not get off the ground without government funding - why? Really want a WALLY? Protest unplaned growth.

Stephen Landes

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

Eugene, The topic appears at election time because the folks in power (chiefly our US rep Dingel who has been there since George Washington live at Mt. Vernon) use this ploy of handing out the bucks in time for elections. There is no coincidence between the outflows of money from Washington just before the 2010 election (Stadium Bridge) and the 2012.

Allison Camara

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 7:01 p.m.

I live and work in AA but I would be more then willing and I would love to take a train out to that area to visit my Mom and Dad with my daughter and she would love it, how often and how late would the rail line run would it be 7 days a week or 5, would it be more frequent on M-F rush hour time and less frequent on Sat & Sun? Dig dig dig get all the answers ;)


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

Oops. Take a memo. Scrap the fuller station. We now get a train two-fer at the new DTE river station. Complete with hotel, restaurant, fishing and boating bar overlooking the cascades. Move Blake down there and put the convention center eraser on 4th.

Jay Thomas

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.

An Ann Arbor to Howell line would be the most un-economic of anything we have on rails. The design grant is just another waste of money, but par for the course with a federal government still intent on printing up fiat currency to research cow "emissions" for the dozenth time.

Mr. Me

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:07 p.m.

I'm as pro-transit as anybody, and I hate 23 at rush hour, but are there really enough commuters in Howell and Brighton for a commuter train? What's wrong with an express bus?


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 7:01 p.m.

I've been dreaming of that for years WiY! If there is any road is Michigan worth experimenting with a HOV lane it is 23 between A2 and Brighton. Heck even just one new lane that switches direction of travel in the middle of the afternoon to adjust to traffic flow would work.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

Well, a bus would be subject to the same traffic issues on 23 that the train is intended to avoid. A good solution would be to turn the left lane of US-23 into a carpool lane but I don't see the regular commuters on US-23 going for that idea. But maybe they would support getting other people off the road entirely. If you get enough people using the train, it makes the traffic on US-23 better too.

Steve in MI

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

Easy question to answer. Based on the transit-friendly cities where I've lived and worked, commuters don't take buses. They *will* use - and pay money for - a reliable commuter rail service.

Ron Granger

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:04 p.m.

$640,000 is a tiny drop in a rusty bucket. Train service is incredibly expensive. What could possibly justify this line to Howell? What is in Howell?


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

Traffic on 23 is bad. Although new lanes never solve anything, we have a history of funding new lanes. I believe the estimate is $500 million. Folks are looking at Wally because it's a 10th the cost. (It's not a perfect substitute, but still far, far cheaper.)

Top Cat

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:04 p.m.

The WALLY Folly will never happen. None of the numbers add up. No one can afford the subsidies and the maintenance.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

Why does it seem easier for Ann Arbor to get a rail line from here to Howell (population 9,500) than from here to Detroit, the 18th largest city in the country? That seems utterly ridiculous.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 6:04 p.m.

because of who owns the specific rail lines. If you google map the proposed route to detroit, it passes through many, many track changes. This line is a straight shot, for the most part, and much less used.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

So with a north-south Wally line and an east-west Amtrack line both intersecting at some point, wouldn't that place be an ideal spot for a new train station?

Stephen Landes

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

That intersection is an ideal place to locate the station. I've been advocating it for more than a year. The station would be two stories -- upper for WALLY and lower for AMTRAK. There is property in the area for a parking structure, a bus connection point, and access to expressways. Much better than Fuller Rd.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

The intersect at Main just north of Depot St. along the river. It wouldn't be the easiest spot to build a new station but it would be doable if the city owned the land. There's not a lot that's particularly close to that station though so walkability for a commuter line goes out the window.