Washtenaw Transit Tidbits

Updates on tax proposals, bike share, regional transit and more

A lot is happening on the local transit front — though not any plans for dogs to drive our public buses. Not that I know of, at least.

But now that I’ve got your attention, here are a few brief updates I learned by attending the most recent meeting of the Policy Committee for the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, known as WATS. The session — with representatives from more than a dozen state, regional and local public entities — took place on Wednesday, Jan. 17 at the county administration building in downtown Ann Arbor.

More info on WATS is at the end of this column, including details about a Jan. 23 public forum to give feedback on a long-range transportation planning process. If you can’t wait, click here.

Millage Renewal for The Ride

In August 2018, voters will be asked to renew a tax for public bus services.

Larry Krieg, a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board, reported that the board was likely to move forward with the millage renewal at its monthly meeting on Thursday, Jan. 18. [Subsequently, the board unanimously approved that item — the discussion starts at about the 1-hour mark on this video.]

Ypsilanti Township Trustee Monica Ross-Williams and Larry Krieg, member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board.

The proposal is to put a 5-year, 0.7-mill tax renewal on the Aug. 7 ballot. Voters originally approved that amount in May 2014 with 71% support. The tax, which paid for expanded bus services outlined in The Ride’s Transit Improvement Plan, expires in May 2019. The renewal would sustain those expanded services.

The AAATA board will determine exact ballot language at a future meeting, possibly in February. Check out pages 25–26 of the AAATA’s board packet for details.

The AAATA board will continue discussion about the ballot proposal and other issues at its retreat on Wednesday, Jan. 24. The event, which is open to the public, starts at 9 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1401 Briarwood Circle.

This is the second millage proposal — so far — that will be facing voters this year. At its Jan. 17 meeting, trustees of the Ann Arbor Public Schools voted 6–1 to put a 20-year, 18-mill renewal of its operating millage on the May 8, 2018 ballot.

Trustee Jeff Gaynor dissented, questioning the timing of this proposal. If it’s the only item on the ballot, the district would pay the full cost of running the election — estimated at about $100,000. (Thanks to Monet Tiedemann of AnnArbivore.com for reporting on this AAPS meeting.)

New Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Township Bus Service

Also related to our local public transit system, on Jan. 29 The Ride is launching a new express bus service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township.

A new Ypsilanti Township-to-Ann Arbor non-stop service starts Jan. 29.

The new service provides two non-stop trips during the morning rush hours from a stop at Joe Hall Drive and Huron Street in Ypsilanti Township to the University of Michigan central and medical campuses, then ending at the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor.

Two additional non-stop trips in the late afternoon/evening return to Ypsilanti Township.

This is the last in a suite of services that were promised as part of the AAATA’s 2014 millage for expanded services.

What’s Up with the RTA?

The WATS Policy Committee touched briefly on the topic of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, known as the RTA.

Website for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.

Several members expressed interest in getting an update from the Washtenaw County representatives to the RTA board — Liz Gerber and Alma Wheeler Smith — or from Andy LaBarre, chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, who is also involved in figuring out the RTA’s future.

As its name implies, the RTA was created to provide coordinated public transit for Detroit and the counties of Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw. A millage proposal to support this effort was rejected by voters in 2016. Most recently, Bridge Magazine provided this report on the possibility of another millage request: “Breakthrough nears on mass transit tax in southeast Michigan.”

Also at Wednesday’s WATS Policy Committee meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmember Chuck Warpehoski mentioned that the RTA was seeking applications for its Citizens Advisory Committee. I followed up by calling the RTA office manager, who told me that they only needed members from Washtenaw and Macomb counties, and that Wednesday, Jan. 17 was the deadline to apply. I’m disappointed that the vacancies weren’t better publicized.

The Connector Stalled

The Connector was a much-anticipated project to link the University of Michigan’s South State campus through Ann Arbor and up to its North Campus using a “high-capacity” mode. At one point, light rail was being considered.

Map showing the proposed route of The Connector, a project that’s now on hold.

The project was known for its distinctive boomerang shape, when the potential route was outlined on maps.

While the project hasn’t officially been canceled, it’s no longer being funded as originally envisioned. A website for the project remains active, but provides only the vaguest indication of what’s next: “‘Smarter’ systems of innovative and integrated transportation solutions are being developed — to capitalize on current opportunities and yield better connectivity, more capacity, and reduce congestion for core segments.” Autonomous vehicles, anyone?

The Connector came up in Wednesday’s WATS meeting because $400,000 previously set aside for that project is being reallocated to three other planning projects for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority — including a study that looks at fare pricing. See pages 31–38 of this meeting packet for details.

Bike Share Expansion

In looking at the WATS draft budget — for its fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018 — a proposed $30,000 for a “bike share modernization study” drew some discussion.

ArborBike site promoting the BCycle app.

The current bike share system, called ArborBike, is located in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. There’s interest in expanding beyond this core, possibly to include the area covered by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (The Ride) bus service. Eastern Michigan University and the City of Ypsilanti are also talking about a possible bike share system, according to Leigh Greden, who attended the WATS meeting as a representative of EMU.

ArborBike is managed by the Clean Energy Coalition, a local nonprofit. It’s funded by UM, the City of Ann Arbor, The Ride and several corporate sponsors.

North Main in Ann Arbor

Reconstruction of North Main Street is set for 2020, and planning is already underway for that work.

Kari Martin of the Michigan Dept. of Transportation reported that the state has a $13 million construction budget for that stretch of North Main just south of M-23/M-14 interchange. That work will cover reconstruction of the road but not any additional work, like sidewalks or a pedestrian overpass.

Later this year, WATS will be organizing a local advisory committee to prioritize work that the City of Ann Arbor might do at the same time as the MDOT reconstruction.

This will likely be a different group than the folks who served on the city’s North Main-Huron River Corridor Project. However, that work will guide this next iteration of the project.

Salt on County Roads

Doug Fuller, one of three Washtenaw County Road Commissioners, reported that so far this season, the WCRC has used more salt than any other previous full year. The good news? Salt prices are at historic lows, Fuller said.

A recent article in the Petoskey News-Review states that “This year’s salt prices range from $45.47 per ton for early purchases to $55.23 per ton for quantities purchased later on. Last year, the early purchase price was $51.32 a ton, and backup salt purchased later was $63.84 a ton.”

The Washtenaw County Road Commission provides a ton of info about its winter maintenance work. Click here to check it out.

What’s WATS?

The Washtenaw Area Transportation Study is a federally mandated public entity that manages transportation planning in this county. Its work is described in more detail in the “What’s WATS?” section of its website.

Ryan Buck of WATS and Nancy Hedberg, Scio Township clerk.

WATS has a small staff led by Ryan Buck, working from offices at the county administration building in downtown Ann Arbor. Their work is guided by representatives from local public entities — townships, villages, cities, the county, universities, transit organizations and others.

At the Jan. 17 WATS Policy Committee meeting, for example, members who attended represented the cities of Ypsilanti, Chelsea and Ann Arbor; the townships of Ypsilanti, Scio, Pittsfield, Northfield, Dexter and Ann Arbor; Eastern Michigan University; Washtenaw County; the Washtenaw County Road Commission; the Michigan Dept. of Transportation; the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority; the Southwest Washtenaw Council of Governments; and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

One current project: Developing a long-range transportation plan for Washtenaw County. On Tuesday, Jan. 23 WATS staff will host a public meeting from 1–3 p.m. to get input about the plan. The session will be held at the county administration building’s lobby, 200 N. Main in downtown Ann Arbor.

Click here for details about the planning process, and to provide feedback online.