AATA to take over WALLY commuter rail project

The commuter rail project WALLY is set to take some serious steps forward now that its future is no longer up for grabs.

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority took control of the project last night and will serve as the agency to take it forward. Proponents of WALLY have been pushing to set up a new authority consisting of Washtenaw and Livingston counties, but officials from Livingston County (where most of the stations will be located) have balked at the idea.

"There's lot to be done but this really gives it some firm ground to stand on," says Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study.

Now comes the hard part of making the project work behind the scenes before it can make its first public appearance and become operational. A lot of that work includes things like surveying, environmental reports and overseeing improvements to the track.

RL Banks & Associates released a feasibility study for the line in July that basically said the commuter line was feasible, needed $32.4 million to start and would take about 16 months to set up. The people behind WALLY want to get it up and running before planned improvements on U.S. 23 (which the line basically mirrors) once again bring traffic to a standstill in 2010.

Traffic on U.S. 23 often becomes easily congested as traffic volumes often overrun the highway's capacity during rush hour. The commuter line would have stops on Ann Arbor's north side, Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell. Unfortunately, Ann Arbor Railroad is not cooperating with the project, so a short spur into downtown is unavailable.

A key supporter of the rail line is the Great Lakes Central Railroad, which
controls the tracks along the corridor and wants to set up the service. Long-range plans call for it extending as far as Traverse City.

Source: Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study
Writer: Jon Zemke
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