WALLY commuter rail station design work gets the green light

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board's vote last week to release funding for all WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) expenditures means the station design phase will now get underway. The total AATA budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012 was $230,000, most but not all of which will be applied to the station design, says Michael Benham, AATA's special assistant for strategic planning.

WALLY is a planned 26-mile north-south stretch of commuter railway spanning from downtown Howell to Ann Arbor. The rail line would run on existing track largely owned by the Great Lakes Central Railroad. The end point in Ann Arbor, however, is yet to be determined. Track ownership changes on the city's north side to the Ann Arbor Railroad, which has objected to providing passenger service, according to Benham.

The Great Lakes Central Railroad terminates in the Plymouth and Barton Road vicinity. That stop could serve the U-M Medical Center, the North Campus Research Complex, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other employers, Benham says, but, "Ideally we'd continue to go downtown and then that would open up a whole separate market for the service, namely the downtown businesses."

Site evaluation and station design work will start in either start late summer or fall, after contract negotiations with the design consultant are complete, Benham notes. Once design work is done, the next step, assuming continued public support, would be to develop management plans in preparation for a federal funding grant request.

Meanwhile, 24 rail cars, many of which are intended for use on the WALLY line, are being rehabilitated by the Great Lakes Central Railroad. "That project continues to move along. Those cars recently passed some federal tests that qualified them for service."

Whether WALLY will evolve past the design phase remains to be seen. The project, Benham says, is in the "out years" of Washtenaw County's 30-year transit master plan. "It's something we need to do the development work on now in order to prepare a fit for possible implementation in the future. So we're kind of taking it one step at a time."

Source: Michael Benham, AATA's special assistant for strategic planning
Writer: Tanya Muzumdar
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