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East Lansing Amtrak Station on MSU Property Gets $6 Million Federal Grant For Expansion

P.D. Lesko

This is not satire. Those who support alternative transportation and expanded transit should read it and weep.

Elected officials in East Lansing, Michigan—along with officials at Michigan State University—recently showed how real Democrats do transit expansion. First, you reuse the city’s current station. Then, you apply and win a multi-million dollar federal grant and use it to pay for the expansion and refurbishment. Then, you turn toward Ann Arbor, and have a hearty laugh at the mayor who recently bragged to the local newspaper: “I don’t know of a single city that does more than ours for alternative transportation.” He said this while inaugurating a $50 million dollar underground parking garage, complete with more foreign-made glass and materials than a Heinkle He-177. He said this while the air quality in Ann Arbor hasn’t been in compliance with EPA standards since 2005. He said this while Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for the City of Ann Arbor increased by 9.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, from an estimated 481,607,203 miles to 529,238,685, according to data compiled by WATS.

The Lansing State Journal is reporting that: “The city’s train station, which now services Amtrak travel near the intersection of Harrison and Trowbridge roads, will be upgraded using a federal grant worth $6.3 million, federal, state and local officials said today. The grant will fund a portion of the $10.5 million project, which will add bus bays and improve parking for taxis, rental cars and bike sharing. It also will incorporate a stop for Megabus, which recently added an East Lansing stop along a route that includes stops in Detroit, Chicago and Grand Rapids….Michigan State University owns the train station property and leases a portion to the Capital Area Rail Authority, which is managed by CATA, said Fred Poston, MSU’s vice president for finance and operations.”

In February 2012, frustrated University of Michigan officials pulled out of a 2009 transit hub partnership with city officials and returned to their plan to put up parking towers in the middle of a Ward 1 neighborhood on Wall Street, directly across from the Kellogg Eye Center. Perhaps, not coincidentally, John Hieftje’s name no longer appears on the U of M list of faculty, though his wife continues to work part-time for the University of Michigan School of Music.

While East Lansing pols use federal grants to get the job done, Ann Arbor pols are using a $2.6 million dollar federal grant to do an environmental study to determine if parking and transit will have an adverse impact on a fragile river front parcel of parkland. The contract for the study was awarded to the same company (JJR) that did the secret impact study of several popular city parks that identified the Fuller Road park as the “best” site for a transit center. Then, JJR landed a $660,000 contract to design the structure to go on the parkland site they identified as perfect for a transit center. Let’s guess what the fine folks at JJR will conclude about any possible environmental impacts of transit by the building they designed on the parkland site they identified as perfect for a construction site.

Welcome to Ann Arbor politics, where single-source contracts to companies with clear conflicts of interest are how business is done, money and contracts are handed to political pals, and taxpayers are bamboozled. Ann Arbor’s elected officials have been trying to sell the public a bill of goods that use of the current Amtrak station just isn’t possible. They want to spend more local tax dollars to build a grandiose new transit center, complete with hundreds of thousands of dollars diverted for art projects.

Ward 2 Council member Tony Derezinski is a public-private partnership cheerleader, who favors spending big bucks to build new. He recently announced he was “proud” of the city’s parks, but still favors using a parcel of Fuller Road river front parkland as a construction site for a new Amtrak train. Derezinski told voters at the 2012 League of Women Voters candidate forum: “We really do need a new site because the present site won’t work. That was looked at as a possibility and rejected. So you shouldn’t offer false hope.” He said this in response to opponent Sally Hart Petersen. Petersen supports upgrading and expanding facilities at the current Amtrak station.

Ward 4 incumbent Margie Teall, at the same League of Women Voters event, said she thought the river front park “an ideal location for a rail station.” Ward 4 challenger Jack Eaton disagrees. He favors expansion of the current Amtrak station, as well. Ward 5 candidate Vivienne Armentrout, and Ward 1 candidate Sumi Kailasapathy, like Eaton and Petersen, favor the more fiscally conservative and ecologically friendly solution of reusing and refurbishing the present Amtrak station.

The local chapter of the Sierra Club has come out strongly against using the Fuller Road parkland for parking or transit.

Hieftje and his Demublican cronies have frittered away over $6.6 million dollars on, among other things, single-source, no-bid contracts in a grandiose and unrealized plan to expand local transit. University of Michigan officials, frustrated, pulled out of a partnership with the city to expand transit hammered out in 2009.

Meanwhile in East Lansing: “The grant will fund a portion of the $10.5 million project, which will add bus bays and improve parking for taxis, rental cars and bike sharing….Design and engineering of the building could take between three and six months. Construction is projected to take about a year, although an official groundbreaking date hasn’t been set. That said, officials estimate the project could be finished by the end of 2013.” Will Ann Arbor have an expanded Amtrak station by 2013 paid for, for the most part, with federal dollars?

No.

John Hieftje and his Marx Brothers Council Majority have already wasted more in local tax dollars and federal funding on studies, designs and sole source contracts than East Lansing is expected to spend to complete that city’s expansion of their current Amtrak Station. 

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