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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