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Ann Arbor-to-Traverse rail feasibility study moves forward with funding

Now that funding for a feasibility study is in place, an Ann Arbor-to-Traverse City railroad line is one step closer to reality.

Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, an advocacy group based in Traverse City, is leading an initiative to bring back regular passenger train service between southeast and northwest Michigan, with a goal of having it operational by 2025. Groundwork partnered with the Bay Area Transit Authority to apply for federal funds that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) distributes to regional transit authorities.

Concentrate reported on the feasibility study in August 2016, but funding for the study has only recently been firmed up. Because Groundwork is collaborating with many partners including MDOT and regional transit authorities, it took some time to have them all sign off on the study, according to Groundwork program director Jim Lively.

Lively says tracks are already in place for the entire route, so work would focus on upgrading and improving the tracks and amenities along the route.

Public input sessions will be held at the beginning and again at the end of the feasibility study. Communities along the route that will be surveyed include Petoskey, Traverse City, Cadillac, Mount Pleasant, Alma, Ann Arbor, and possibly Brighton. Lively says the Groundwork team is leaving room for surveying other communities along the southern portion of the route.  

Lively says the study will help all partners in the initiative learn what the demand is for this type of rail and analyze the demographics of potential passengers. They also need to decide how much to charge for tickets and what factors will influence how much passengers will be willing to spend, such as the speed of the trains and what the transportation experience as a whole will be like.

"Our ideal goal would be daily service from northeast to southeast Michigan, but it might take some time to get to that," Lively says.
 
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor based in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Ypsilanti residents launch new millage campaign for Water Street debt retirement

Ypsilanti voters may again be asked to approve a 2.3-mill debt retirement millage to pay off the city's Water Street property debt, if organizers behind a new citizen-led effort can rally enough support for it this spring.

The city proposed a similar millage that was narrowly defeated last August. Now volunteers behind the recently launched Citizens for Ypsi campaign are working to get the measure back on the ballot this summer.

Citizens for Ypsi treasurer Adam Gainsley says the group wants to help stabilize Ypsilanti's finances, so the city can focus on basic services and economic growth.

"All the folks working on this campaign are invested in Ypsilanti and want to make sure our home continues to be an amazing place to live," Gainsley says. "Many of us have children that we are looking forward to raising here in Ypsi and want to make sure their future here is bright."

The millage would raise about $700,000 per year through 2031 to be put toward the city's outstanding principal of $7,840,000 still owed on the property. That money is currently withdrawn from the city's general fund, which has led to cuts in staffing, policing, programs, and services in Ypsi. The Water Street site has become a financial burden on the city as expected redevelopment interest in the property has repeatedly failed to materialize.

The group needs 848 signatures by April 13 to get the proposal on the Aug. 7 ballot. An informational kickoff event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse.

In addition to Gainsley, who also serves on the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) board of directors, the group of community leaders and professionals includes John Weiss, Lisa Wozniak, Gillian Ream Gainsley, Kerri Pepperman, Elisa Guyton, Jelani Mcgadney, Dylan Goings, Jason Loren, Kate Stroud, and Jenn Wenzel. It also has the backing of Ypsilanti's city council, Washtenaw County Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, state Rep. Ronnie Peterson, and former state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith.

Gainsley is optimistic about the millage passing this time because the 2016 defeat came down to less than 40 votes with minimal fundraising, organizing, and outreach.

"We're tapping into our community talent to build a highly informative campaign with outreach efforts across the city," he says. "We're putting together a number of informational pieces to clearly show the current state of the city's finances, as well the effects of the result of this vote on our financial future.

"This debt has been a thorn in our side long enough, and it is time to put it behind us and move onto more important work."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Café Ollie to relaunch and expand with fine dining and craft cocktails

The owners of Ypsilanti's Café Ollie have closed their popular Depot Town restaurant and ice cream spot to make way for two new ventures: a craft cocktail bar and fine-dining restaurant in the former café space, and a café and bakery coming to the storefront next door.

Mark Teachout, who opened the café six years ago with his wife Danielle, says the changes suit the Teachouts' "very broad concept" for the business.

"It just makes sense to separate and split into two separate entities, albeit side-by-side," he says.

Teachout says the new restaurant, simply called "Ollie," will help fill the gap for an "affordable, unpretentious fine-dining experience" in Ypsi.

"I see a real opening for a cozy place, where you can get great food and a stiff drink and actually hold a conversation," he says. "Boozy breakfast [and] brunch will also be our focus."

Classic cocktails will be a staple for Ollie, with an emphasis on Michigan-made spirits, but the restaurant will also continue serving Michigan beers and wines that will rotate seasonally.

Chef Travis Schuster (formerly of Spencer and Corner Brewery) is handling the food menu, which will also have a seasonal, local focus. Established favorites like mac and cheese aren't going anywhere, but Schuster also plans to bring in lots of fresh, local ingredients and special dinner and brunch surprises.

The café and bakery space next door, dubbed the Cream and Crumb, will offer the ice cream, coffee, and scones Café Ollie has been known for since opening. Zingerman's Bakehouse breads and sweets will also be available and Teachout plans to host live music in the space.

Café Ollie had been listed for sale about a year ago because of Teachout's degenerative arthritis, but he and his wife changed their minds about selling after his health improved last fall.

"The café was doing well, but we knew that in order to grow the business, I would have to be well also," he says. "Long story short: I got on some better meds, and we turned down the offers we had on the business, and here we are."

The owners hope to get the new businesses open by mid-March, and Teachout is optimistic about how people will respond.

"There is a perception that Ypsi is solely a 'shot and a beer' town — no wine, nothing challenging in a culinary sense — and that reflects how people in this industry invest," he says. "It takes a lot of money to open a place, and if you miscalculate you lose. So folks stick to tried and true. But I believe that Ypsi is a place where people have more diversity of thought, and I'm confident in our future."
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

USDOT designation puts Willow Run automated vehicle test grounds in national network

A recent designation as one of the first national proving grounds for automated vehicles should help Ypsilanti Township's American Center for Mobility (ACM) generate even more interest from potential clients and confidence from stakeholders.

The ACM was one of 10 facilities nationwide to be accepted into the United States Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Pilot program last week. The facilities, selected from a pool of 60 applicants, will work to develop and share best practices in what USDOT refers to as a "community of practice."

Set to open by the end of this year, the over 300-acre ACM site is a testing grounds for connected and automated vehicles (CAV), being built on the former site of the Willow Run powertrain plant in Ypsilanti Township.

ACM chief operating officer John Maddox says the USDOT designation ensures that ACM "will always be at that cutting edge, that we'll have the latest, and that the facilities that we design here could very well become the national standard and even the international standard."

Maddox says the designation also speaks to the U.S. government's commitment to the country leading the way in CAV technology globally.

"There's a lot of work to do to validate these connected and automated technologies, and it's not a simple task necessarily," he says. "It's going to take a fair amount of collaboration, expertise, and a fair amount of innovation."

In addition to vehicles, the site is also being designed to test and develop related technologies, such as traffic control devices that communicate with each other and with cars, as well as the communication systems they will use. Maddox says the center's "purpose-built" approach and close proximity to auto industry leaders help set it apart from other facilities and make it possible to become a leader in the space.

"We expect to see continued and even expanding interest [from] companies that want to locate here and be close to this site, so their engineers, their technicians, even their lawyers and product managers, can utilize the site to really speed their product market," Maddox says.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Ann Arbor train station design work could forge ahead without site decision

The location for a long-discussed new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor may still not be determined by Tuesday, Jan. 17, but either way Ann Arbor City Council will review a resolution to approve $2.1 million for preliminary design and engineering work for the station.

Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor says getting the design contract underway is necessary despite not having an approved site because of time constraints tied to grant funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

The city has until September of this year to spend about $2 million left from a $2.8 million federal grant it accepted in 2012, or else it loses that money.

"We are continuing to work under an FRA grant in order to move the train station project forward for site assessment and preliminary engineering," Taylor says.

The FRA is also reviewing the site proposals, which include expanding the existing Depot Street station and building a new station on Fuller Road. Earlier this month, Taylor expressed frustrations over delays in getting a site approved by the FRA in a year-in-review letter shared by email and social media.

If architecture firm Neumann/Smith's proposal for design and engineering work is approved as part of council's consent agenda Tuesday, the firm could have to plan around more than one location for the preliminary designs.

"They'll take into account where we are on the site assessment and move forward with all options in mind," Taylor says. "The process has gone on for much longer than anybody is happy with, and this is one of the consequences of that."

Once a site is approved and preliminary designs are finished, Taylor says the city will work with the FRA on next steps for the station, which include securing local matching funds for the project.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Photos by Doug Coombe.

BTB Cantina goes farm-to-table with new taco menu

Ann Arbor's newest farm-to-table restaurant is already a familiar name for many students and townies: BTB Cantina.

The casual Mexican restaurant, bar, and dance venue reopened last week with a new menu and an updated look from Ann Arbor's Synecdoche Design Studio.

Perhaps the biggest shift for the popular student hangout is the retooled menu, which features numerous locally sourced ingredients including products from Chelsea's Tantré Farm, Ann Arbor Seed Company, Milan's Wasem Fruit Farm, and more. The menu was developed with the help of James Beard Award-nominated chef Magdiale Wolmark. Cantina partner Adam Lowenstein met Wolmark, who moved to the area last year, through a family member whose kids attend the same school as the chef's.

"She introduced us just as two people in the restaurant industry," Lowenstein says. "[Wolmark] had recently moved from Columbus, and she thought we should meet, and we hit it off."

A successful pop-up dinner the Cantina hosted with Wolmark over the summer inspired further collaboration with the chef, whose background in farm-to-table dining helped shape the new concept.

"That jump started the conversation about incorporating some of those changes into Cantina's regular menu," Lowenstein says. "Taco-focused, local sourcing, et cetera. Also, our best and biggest day has always been Taco Tuesday, so we wanted to build on that, too."

Lowenstein also owns the Last Word and student favorites BTB Burrito and Good Time Charley's with business partner Justin Herrick. He says says the menu change at Cantina was also driven by student interest.

"We're always going to be a casual place, so we're not changing that, and students love great tacos," Lowenstein says. "And we want our companies to always stand for value, which Cantina still does.

"As far as farm-to-table, it's something we believe in that's good for the community, the planet, and the quality of the ingredients is just better. But that's really behind the scenes. We want the tacos to stand on their own."

There are no plans at this time to make similar moves at BTB Burrito, which Lowenstein says has been successful for the last 13 years, has a great niche, and "will always have burritos at 4 a.m."

"We aren't going to change anything that doesn't make sense," he says. "At the same time, working with Magdiale's approach to cooking has opened our eyes to some new possibilities, so if something pops out that would translate well to BTB, we're open to it."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
 

Beezy's to open café at Ypsi District Library's Whittaker Road branch

Popular Ypsilanti eatery Beezy's Café will expand its business into Ypsilanti District Library's (YDL) Whittaker Road location next week, as Beezy's takes over operations of the library's vacant café space.

Starting Jan. 9, Beezy's Library Café will offer coffee, tea, and cold bottled beverages, as well as snacks and lunch options including the freshly made soups and sandwiches patrons are used to getting at Beezy's main location in downtown Ypsi. Seasonal items, like smoothies, could be added later.

Since adding the café space in 2008, YDL has contracted local businesses to run it — first Primo Coffee and then B-24's Espresso Bar, which left in October. Library spokesperson Gillian Ream Gainsley says generating enough customers can be a challenge.

"We have around 6,000 visitors a week [at YDL-Whittaker], but most of them are not here for coffee and, of course, it is much lower traffic than you'd get in downtown Ypsilanti," she says.

But she thinks Beezy's reputation outside the library will help make it a destination.

"Beezy's has a real regional draw," she says. "I know people from metro Detroit who make a special trip to Beezy's whenever they are in Washtenaw County. I think Beezy's at the library will attract people who work nearby and just want to stop in for lunch."

Gainsley says Beezy's success as a homegrown business serving high-quality food make it a great partner for the library. The café will also keep hours that more closely mirror the library's than previous tenants had.

"We have people here all hours of the day, whether they are working on projects or bringing their kids to a program or applying for jobs," Gainsley says. "The fact that library patrons can rely on being able to grab a snack or coffee anytime without needing to leave the library really adds to the level of service that we offer."

Beezy's motto of "simple, honest food" also fits well with YDL programs aimed at promoting nutrition, Gainsley says, including gardens at two locations, cooking classes for teens and tweens, a seed library, and free lunches for kids in the summer.

"We believe in supporting the health of our community, and one way to do this is increasing awareness and access to fresh foods," she says. "It's great to have a café that shares that philosophy."

The library café follows another big move for Beezy's, which recently expanded its catering and banquet business into the building across the street from its North Washington Street home.

Café hours are 9 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Collaborative rehearsal and performance space to open in Ypsi Township

A new rehearsal, performance, and collaboration space for musicians, artists, and other creatives is coming to Ypsilanti Township.

Grove Studios launched with a soft opening last month, and several bands are already renting rehearsal rooms in the 6,500-square-foot space at 1145 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsi Township. A public opening with live music and local art is planned for Friday, Jan. 6.

Founder Rick Coughlin says the studio is a work in progress that will focus on offering rented rehearsal space at first, with occasional "pop-up" events like Friday's. Two main rehearsal spaces that accommodate three to four bands each are currently booked up, but hourly space rental in a third room can be arranged through the studio's Facebook page.

A longtime Ypsi resident who works as a technology integration specialist for Plymouth-Canton Community Schools by day, Coughlin has a longstanding passion for music and plays in several bands himself.

"I know plenty of talent in Michigan and around the country, but always felt drawn to the idea of a music space designed for supporting the professionals in the industry: an incubator of sorts, if you will," he says. "A space like Grove is what I want, not only for myself, but for the hard-working creatives that I have known over the years and those young creatives who are coming up."

Coughlin and business partners Breck Crandell and Erich Friebel aim to provide a welcoming space, in contrast to the stereotypical ramshackle band practice spot with poor soundproofing.

"I want the space to be clean, secure, safe, inspiring, climate-controlled, and convenient," Coughlin says.

The partners are leasing the space with hopes to eventually buy and expand it. One idea down the road includes building "rehearsal pods" from shipping containers, but Coughlin acknowledges there will be some regulatory challenges to overcome.

Other long-term plans include offering more hourly rehearsal space rental, music gear storage lockers, and on-site instrument and amplifier repair services.

Live events aren't top priority at the moment, but Coughlin says some "low-key" events are being booked into February with the help of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Music & Arts Guild.

"We certainly like the idea of a venue for performance, but more along the lines of a showcase room," he says. "We want to elevate the art, and a showcase room for album release parties, art exhibitions, and other special events is appealing."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
 

After slow start, county affordable housing goal aims to build momentum in 2017

A long-term Washtenaw County plan to create more affordable housing in Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township should gain some momentum this year, but officials expect a slow and steady race to the finish.

The county is now two years into a 20-year goal to add 2,797 new committed affordable units in Ann Arbor and 342 in Pittsfield Township by 2035 (or 140 units in Ann Arbor and 17 in Pittsfield per year). The goal is based on recommendations from a 2015 report prepared for the county Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED). Affordable housing is defined as being reserved for tenants who make 60 percent or less of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's area median income for Washtenaw County, which is $62,000 for a single person or $84,300 for a four-person household.

Teresa Gillotti, housing and community infrastructure manager for OCED, says her focus in these first few years is on developing a work plan, promoting policy changes and incentives that favor affordable housing, and generating more funds for projects.

Two affordable units were added in Ann Arbor in 2015. Gillotti says 2016 numbers aren't in yet, "but it's looking a little bit low."

"2017 looks like it has more potential, just with some projects that are in the queue," she says. "But the idea is that we start removing these barriers, we start opening up ordinance changes and dedicate funding and make some of those hard decisions. So every year instead of a few or three or five, we're getting 20, we're getting 30, we're getting 50 or even 60. So it just makes it more feasible every year to get closer."

For example, the the city of Ann Arbor approved zoning changes late last summer allowing residents who meet certain criteria to build accessory dwelling units on their residential property. Gillotti says the ordinance change should make a modest impact.

"They're getting tons of calls," she says. "We're hearing anecdotally that maybe 75 to 100 people have called since it passed, but no applications yet."

In the case of publicly owned property being redeveloped, Gillotti says local governments can ask developers to either include affordable housing in their projects or set aside funds for future affordable housing projects as part of their proposals.

The county is now reviewing development proposals for its Platt Road site adjacent County Farm Park, which could include 50 to 120 new affordable housing units.

Another boost could come from the sale of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library's parking lot. The city has committed half of the proceeds from a potential sale to support affordable housing. Although such a major cash influx would be a boon to the county's affordable housing goals, Gillotti says the real key is steadily increasing the number of affordable units annually.

"I don't think in 2017 we're going to have 140 new affordable units, but I want it to be more in every year," she says. "If we can get it to be more, we can at least get to the point where we're making a sizable impact on that goal each year."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

B2B Trail, Ypsi bike lanes to expand in 2017

Numerous non-motorized transportation improvements are coming to Washtenaw County in 2017, including ongoing efforts to expand the popular Border to Border Trail (B2B) in multiple cities.
 
Recently released plans from Ypsilanti's non-motorized advisory committee call for extended bike lanes along Forest Avenue and Cross Street, improved pedestrian crossings with additional signage encouraging traffic safety, and rerouting the B2B through Riverside Park and the Water Street site in Ypsi.
 
Bob Krzewinski, chair of Ypsi's non-motorized advisory committee and the Friends of the Border to Border Trail, says Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation will also continue planning B2B sections from the Water Street site to I-94 and from Frog Island Park to Eastern Michigan University (EMU). But those efforts will likely take three to five years to finish.
 
"A lot of this could be moved up if funds were available, but everyone is competing for different kinds of grants," Krzewinski says.
 
On the other side of the the county, Krzewinski says the parks department is working diligently to take the B2B off road between Ann Arbor and Dexter. Grants have been secured to build a new 10-foot-wide path between Dexter-Huron Metropark and Zeeb Road, and construction could be underway by late 2017.
 
Further west, the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative is working to extend the B2B's original route past Dexter into Chelsea before heading up M-52 toward Stockbridge.
 
"They're just doing some phenomenal work out there," Krzewinski says.
 
Beyond the B2B, Krzewinski says the city of Ypsilanti has already approved expanding Forest Avenue bike lanes from Norris Street to Prospect Road. That project could be done by the end of this year if not for the arrival of winter weather.
 
"You'd basically be putting down paint to have snow plows tear it off, so you're better off waiting until the spring," Krzewinski says.
 
The expansion will complete the well-trafficked route, extending from EMU to Ypsi's eastern city limit.
 
"I notice people there all the time," Krzewinski says. "You're going from a residential area toward the university. It does get a fair amount of use."
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Group invites public input on EMU mural responding to racist graffiti

The Eastern Michigan University (EMU) community and Ypsilanti residents are being invited to give input on a new mural conceived as a response to recent incidents of racist graffiti on EMU's campus.

EMU community members organized the EMU Unity Mural Collaboration in response to incidents in which racial slurs were found painted on campus buildings this fall. Organizers envision a mural on McKenny Hall that would highlight cultural struggles and issues from EMU's past and present, as well as the community's vision for its future. A workshop for Ypsi residents and EMU students, faculty, and staff to give input on the mural's "present" and "future" themes is scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
 
The mural was originally planned to be installed in January, but organizers backed off that deadline to allow more time for community feedback. Mural proposals will be accepted until October 2017 and the mural is now slated to be installed next fall.
 
Co-organizer and EMU senior Steven Kwasny says the idea for the mural came to him while talking and listening to people at the rallies and protests following the graffiti incidents, as well as less formal meetings with friends and peers to talk and chalk positive messages on EMU sidewalks.
 
"What occurred was an attack on our student body, and in my eyes an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us," Kwasny says. "There had to be something done about it."
 
After bouncing the idea off of a couple of friends, Kwasny took it to the school administration, who he says have been highly supportive and grateful for the student-led effort. With the school's approval, he started casting a wide net, reaching out to department heads, faculty members, and student organizations.
 
"Everyone in the EMU community is welcome wholeheartedly — students, staff, faculty, alumni — anyone can submit a proposal," he says. "The outreach has gone far and wide. There's no micro-targeting, just everyone on campus."
 
Last week organizers hosted an outreach day on campus, featuring Ypsilanti community and EMU leaders. Response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, Kwasny says.
 
"There hasn't been a single person I've talked to who has said this is a bad idea or has put up any roadblocks," he says.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

DTE opens 2,520-panel solar array in Ypsi

The city of Ypsilanti is now home to DTE Energy's newest solar panel installation, the Detroit-based utility company's fifth in Washtenaw County.
 
On Friday, the city and DTE will celebrate the commissioning of the 2,520-panel array built over the summer on five acres at the intersection of Clark Road and River Street. DTE is leasing the land from Highland Cemetery.
 
David Harwood, DTE's director of renewable energy, says the installation generates about 844 kilowatts, or about enough energy to power 150 homes.
 
"This is just part of that overall effort by DTE to shift our electrical generation from predominantly fossil-based fuels, like coal, to a more balanced generation fleet that would include wind, solar, and natural gas, as well as coal and nuclear going forward," he says.
 
The installation is comparable in size to three other sites DTE operates around Ann Arbor — one north of downtown near the intersection of US-23 and M-14, and two near the University of Michigan campus — that each generate about 1,000 kilowatts.
 
Ypsilanti economic development director Beth Ernat says the new installation moves the city closer to its goal of generating 1,000 megawatts of energy from renewable sources, which also includes a campaign to implement 1,000 solar roofs on local buildings.
 
A full audit has yet to be done to determine where that goal stands today, but Ernat says several city-owned facilities have participated by installing solar panels, including Ypsi's city hall, fire department, freighthouse, and public services facility. Several private homes have participated as well.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Demand grows for Ypsi autonomous vehicle test facility set to open in 2017

The purchase of Ypsilanti's former Willow Run plant last week moves the American Center for Mobility (ACM) closer to opening a test facility for automated and connected vehicles in Ypsilanti Township by the end of next year.
 
According to ACM chief operating officer John Maddox, many potential clients would like to see that date moved up by 12 months.
 
"We intend to open a very professionally operated, professionally built facility, and that will take us calendar year 2017 to do that, but that has not stopped automakers from asking," Maddox says. "We've had a number of requests from automakers who would like to start testing as soon as December of this year."
 
Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings Limited Partnership purchased the 335-acre property from the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust for $1.2 million and will lease the property to the ACM.
 
The site was previously home to General Motors' powertrain plant and had been used before that to manufacture B-24 bombers during World War II. Maddox says the site's existing infrastructure includes triple-decker overpasses, railroad grade crossings, and bridges that can be used for test driving and would have been very expensive to build from scratch.
 
Over the next year, four major projects will be completed before the center opens: a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) overhaul to Michigan Avenue/US 12 near the site; the ACM's construction of a 2.5-mile practice route for driverless vehicles using former portions of US 12; replacement of all underground utilities, most of which are more than 70 years old; and RACER's installation of new groundwater and stormwater systems on site.
 
The MDOT project "right-sizes" Michigan Avenue for today's traffic, Maddox says, while also providing the ACM with realistic roadways for test driving. Plans call for Michigan Avenue's eastbound lanes to be reconfigured for two-way traffic. The center will then convert the empty westbound lanes into a "highway loop" practice route.
 
"We finished our conceptual design about a month ago and are now in the detailed design phase, where we are planning down to the centimeter where this new road and the exit ramps, et cetera, will be and how it will connect with the existing road," Maddox says.
 
Maddox is also assistant director of the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) at the University of Michigan. He says the MTC's existing Mcity test facility for autonomous vehicles in Ann Arbor will work side-by-side with the ACM, with Mcity continuing to focus on early-stage research and education while the ACM focuses on the later stages of testing and competitive research.
 
"We see a natural evolution of technology going from research through product development to certification and deployment," Maddox says.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

The Ann Arbor Art Center wants your vote for public art

It's not too late to cast your vote for public art in Ann Arbor.
 
The Ann Arbor Art Center is asking community members to choose their favorite of three proposals for work to be installed along Stadium Boulevard as part of a major reconstruction project beginning Nov. 21. Voting is open through Nov. 15.
 
Art Center director of community engagement Omari Rush says the center worked with an art advisory council to develop the process for soliciting and reviewing project proposals on the city's behalf starting last spring.
 
The Art Center received nearly 60 submissions from around the world, including many from Ann Arbor. Representatives of the center and the city of Ann Arbor then determined which designs met minimum criteria, such as not requiring electricity, before turning them over to two community panels that reviewed how submissions met artistic, material, and logistical criteria.
 
Rush says proposals varied, including standalone sculptures and installations built into the boulevard's physical features. The three finalists all propose making use of Stadium's retaining wall, which is to be reconstructed as part of the project. Determined by the panels' scores, the finalists are:
 
  • Brian Brush's "Leaven," a vine-like relief sculpture composed of diamond-shaped, anodized aluminum "leaves."
     
  • Katherine Larson's "Ann Arbor Story Mural Walls," which includes scenes from Ann Arbor's past and present painted in a three-dimensional style.
     
  • Lisa Sauvé (of Synecdoche Design Studio)'s "Sediment," which is described as an "abstracted topography of the Huron River watershed, featuring hexagonal white oak wood pieces and stained concrete."
"There are some shared characteristics of these three proposals that it seems allowed them to emerge as finalists," Rush says. "Their installations all thoughtfully comment on environmental attributes of Ann Arbor or the installation site, and they intentionally engage passersby from multiple perspectives."
 
Following the public vote, the Art Center will make a recommendation to the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission and the Ann Arbor City Council to approve the selected artwork.
 
The city has the final say, but Rush hopes the process, and the Art Center's outreach work, encourages self-expression and helps residents explore new artistic ideas.
 
"The Ann Arbor Art Center is a community arts organization and the city of Ann Arbor works for the community, so engaging them in meaningful ways throughout this project was a given," he says. "We also value diversity, and we understand that having an inclusive process makes our work even more rich and interesting."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

AAATA to share new feasibility findings for Ann Arbor-to-Howell rail

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) will share findings from the first phase of a feasibility study for a proposed North-South Commuter Rail (N-S Rail) service between Ann Arbor and Howell in a series of three community meetings beginning tonight in Whitmore Lake.
 
Released today by AAATA, the findings estimate up to 1,840 riders would use a daily commuter rail service from Howell to Ann Arbor if it were running today, with more than 2,300 daily riders by 2040. The service, which would run on existing freight tracks, would take 51 minutes from end to end. It would cost an estimated $122 million to get up and running and $13 million per year to maintain. The study, which is being managed in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation, launched last year.
 
Since the last set of public meetings in March 2015, AAATA spokesperson Mary Stasiak says the original plan has been adjusted to include additional service options, which have been reviewed and analyzed over the last month by engineering and planning consultant SmithGroupJJR.
 
"There are seven fairly distinct service options that vary in terms of train frequency, stations served, location of end points for the service, and location of maintenance facilities," Stasiak says. "We also added highway and bus options in order to satisfy federal requirements that we compare the full range of transportation possibilities for the corridor."
 
The three primary options at this point, according to Stasiak, are a Full Service route with stops in Howell, Genoa, Hamburg, Whitmore Lake, Barton Drive, and downtown Ann Arbor; Shuttle Service between Whitmore Lake, Barton Drive, and downtown Ann Arbor; and a Minimal Service route between Whitmore Lake and Barton Drive.
 
Several key changes have been made to the Full Service option since it was last studied in 2008. Those include a longer route extending into downtown Ann Arbor; safety measures, like positive train control, that weren't previously required; maintenance facilities with more features and new locations; and relocating the area of the tracks where freight is exchanged between freight carriers from the current site near Whitmore Lake to a new site south of Ann Arbor, in order to avoid interference with passenger operations.
 
Following public input this month, the study will turn to funding and governance questions before wrapping up in spring 2017. Since any federal funds for the project would need to be matched with local dollars, Stasiak says a new tax will be needed for the project to move forward.
 
"The communities in the corridor will still need to decide if they are interested enough to create a local funding source," she says.

Community meetings will be held as follows:
 
Wednesday, Nov. 9, from 7 - 9 p.m. at the Northfield Township Offices, 8350 Main St., in Whitmore Lake.
 
Monday, Nov. 14, from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Bennett Recreation Center, 925 W. Grand River Ave., in Howell.
 
Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Slauson Middle School, 1019 W. Washington, in
Ann Arbor.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
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