Moving Us Forward: The Urban Core Expansion Plan
The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is moving forward with a new Five-Year Plan for expanded services. They describe this plan on their recently remodeled website and have been conducting public meetings all over Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. In the meeting I attended, emphasis was given to local (5th ward) routes and enhancements in detail. The flyer at the right lists many specific route changes. (There was a surprisingly vigorous discussion, with one current bus user objecting to some of the “enhancements”.) Clearly, much planning and fine-tuning has gone into the proposal.
The map below shows detail about enhancements in the Ann Arbor area. (Similar maps are available on the website for the Ypsilanti and Pittsfield areas.) Here are a few quick points about the changes:
- New routes are shown in blue, old ones green. Express Routes purple.
- Note that most of the new routes are on the west side of Ann Arbor. (These have letter designations instead of numbers, but this is temporary.)
- Routes “leak” outside the borders of the City of Ann Arbor, with excursions into Scio and Pittsfield Townships. Scio Township is not participating in the Urban Core plan but a bus would run along Jackson Avenue to Zeeb Road.
- There is no expanded service into Ann Arbor Township on the northeast side, despite the complex of medical services and offices at Domino’s Farms in that area.
- There are several Express Routes shown, including the present ones to Chelsea and Canton, and new ones to Belleville and the Walmart/Saline complex on Michigan Avenue.
In my judgment, there are many reasons to say this is a lovely plan on functional grounds. For example, the plan allows people from Ann Arbor to seek employment at Meijer and presumably makes all the commercial and nonprofit (like the family shelter) opportunities accessible. Some of the commercial spots in Pittsfield, like Costco and Walmart, plus the Pittsfield library branch, are also made accessible. It is rather concerning, however, that the northeast side of Ann Arbor and the WCC/St. Joe’s area appear to be receiving no enhancements.
So, as is always the question: how will this expanded system be paid for? As we indicated in our previous post, the City of Ypsilanti has joined the authority and Ypsilanti Township has requested to join. Pittsfield Township and Superior Township will apparently just maintain their current POSA contracts, while Scio Township and Ann Arbor Township have declined to play. The City of Saline is also a nonparticipant.
As was explained at the meeting, a major cost of implementing the plan will be buying new buses. Most of the buses in the existing fleet were purchased with Federal funds, but for a variety of technical reasons those won’t be available to expand service. All this will not happen without a major infusion of cash. As we reported earlier, there was an informal consensus at the “Urban Core Meetings” that the “Improve & Expand” option was to be selected. According to the description offered, that option will require an annual additional revenue of $5.4 million by 2019 (the last year of the Five-Year Plan). (Since Pittsfield and Saline are not participating, the actual figure is not clear.) Much money is needed to start up. The planner, Michael Benham, stated, “We’re using every cent we’ve got right now.” So where will the cash come from?
It is an open secret that AAATA hopes the answer will be a new authority-wide millage. (The authority is expected to include Ypsilanti Township, along with Ann Arbor and the City of Ypsilanti, the two current members of AAATA.) The number mentioned is 0.7 mills, to be approved by voters in May 2014.
So as explained in the public meeting, Year One of the Five-Year Plan will begin in August 2014, assuming that a millage passes through the entire authority in May 2014. This was not obvious, since the assessment and tax cycle has various milestones. A November millage vote would not provide revenue until the succeeding year. However, since taxes are paid every July, the May vote will deliver the needed revenue in the same year as the ballot.
AAATA is currently on a charm offensive, with many meetings with local officials and the public meetings. Although officials have been careful to say that the AAATA board has not yet authorized a millage vote, it is clear that that is in our future. But the outcome is not certain. Will voters endorse the plan with their dollars?
NOTE: A list of previous posts on this topic can be found on the Transportation Page.Explore posts in the same categories: civic finance, politics, Regional, Transportation