Fuller Road Station and the Mayor’s Letter
As you may have heard, the City of Ann Arbor is considering whether to invest with the University of Michigan and the Federal Government in a multi-modal transportation facility on Fuller Road—the Fuller Road Station (FRS). I write today to give you some important background information.
The news report has attracted a number of comments. They help to make one point clear: Fuller Road Station is not just one issue. It is a complex of issues, with separate histories, policy implications, visions of the future, suppositions, and mass of facts and details behind each one.
It is also emerging as a strong political theme in Ann Arbor. Thus its future, and the justification for our city embarking on this adventure, have become enmeshed with the politics of the August primary, in which three candidates (two incumbents) question the venture and three support it. The Mayor has favored the candidates who support the FRS and the timing of his letter just before the primary election (next Tuesday, folks) seems curious.
Our mayor very rarely writes us directly, and his letter deserves careful study and scrutiny. But first, let’s consider the different issues. (Listed in no particular order.)
1. Ann Arbor’s finances. What is the likely effect of embarking on the long-term project of a “multimodal” station? Will it prove to be neutral, more or less, a plus because of economic activity and other indirect effects, or a fiscal morass?
2. Parking and traffic issues. Much of the immediate project is for a parking structure that will largely serve the UM Health Care complex. Is this a good thing, from the viewpoint of transportation planning, and also for the city?
3. Ann Arbor parks and ordinances regarding use of parkland. A ballot issue forbade the sale of parkland without a public vote, but this project skirts that by a long-term lease. Should this be permitted, and further, is this a dangerous precedent for disposing of parkland by other means than a direct sale?
4. The future of commuter rail from Ann Arbor (the station would become part of the AATA’s Transit Master Plan that presumes commuter rail will connect Ann Arbor both to Howell and to Detroit). To the extent that this idea justifies construction of the Fuller Road Station, is it likely to happen?
5. On a related note, what about “high-speed rail” in Michigan? Is that going to happen and to what extent does construction of the Fuller Road Station depend on Ann Arbor being part of such a system?
6. And while we are on that question, what is the position of Amtrak in all this? The current service to Chicago is popular and there is an existing station.
7. What are our hopes and dreams of a future transportation system? As we have already noted, trains have a powerful emotional pull. (See Train of Dreams and Train of Dreams II.) Our mental picture of what the future should hold for transportation that frees us from the automobile is a powerful driver in these decisions.
8. Our relationship with the University of Michigan. We are very nearly a company town. To what extent does “it’s good for the UM” also translate to “it’s good for Ann Arbor”? Are there times when our interests diverge?
9. What is the appropriate public process for this decision and has it been followed? (See What, Exactly, is a Robust Public Process. It isn’t about the FRS but addresses some of the points.)
The Mayor’s letter touches on many of these themes. In the next post we will go through his letter point by point and attempt some analysis.
UPDATE: The post was edited to add the last point after publication.
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