Ypsi Planning Commission Meeting Regarding Ann Arbor-Detroit Commuter Rail Service

March 19, 2009 by  
Filed under News

freighthouseYpsilanti citizens and the city planning commission learned more details about the Ann Arbor-Detroit rail line Wednesday during a presentation from the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG).

The SEMCOG presentation by Director of Transportation Programs, Carmine Palumbo, introduced the commission and citizens in attendance to the rail line and communicated more specific details about the service. Palumbo was on hand as a part of SEMCOG’s effort to include communities in which the new rail service will stop. He gave an overview of the vision for the service, an update of the council’s progress, and provided details about the proposed Ypsilanti stop.

The Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line is proposed to serve five stops — Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Dearborn and Detroit. The council is negotiating agreements with the three railroads — Norfolk Southern, Conrail Shared Assets, and Canadian National — that own the rail lines, and Palumbo indicated talks are going well. The commuter train service will share rail lines with freight and Amtrak trains.

The Ypsilanti stop’s proposed location is in Depot Town along the tracks north of Cross street. Publicly owned land on both sides of the tracks would accommodate parking and boarding areas. The meeting included discussion about three options for a boarding location. A representative from the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse (FOYF) organization delivered a proposal for the old freighthouse to be used as a station. The freighthouse was used for the Ypsilanti farmer’s market and community events until it failed a number of building code requirements and was no longer allowed to be occupied.

The FOYF organization was formed to repair and find use for the freighthouse. Another proposal was to purchase the old depot from its current owners and renovate it for use as a station. The final option was presented by Palumbo to build a 450-foot platform in the railroad right-of-way on one side of the tracks. The planning commission has been asked to make a final recommendation to SEMCOG for the location of a boarding structure and indicated the recommendation would come after more analysis and discussion at the April 15 meeting.

During his presentation Palumbo warned the project still has a long way to go and that there will be issues the project may need to work through.

“There are going to be some bumps along the road,” he said. “Funding is going to be a huge bump.”

SEMCOG is applying for state and federal funding and is planning on raising all the capital costs to get the project off the ground. Palumbo also indicated some of the money could come from the Obama administration’s stimulus plan allocation for high-speed rail projects.

All who spoke to the commission during the public comment period were in support of the rail line project. Some concerns were raised, however, about parking capacity, the environmental impact of the trains, locations of the boarding structure and safety at crossings in light of increased train traffic.

Planning Commissioner Gary Clark spoke in favor of the freighthouse station idea and urged the commission to continue to move forward with the commuter rail plan in spite of some concerns that had been voiced.

“I don’t want us to worry it to death,” he said. “We’re creative enough that if we step things along we’ll be able to handle it.”