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Almost ALL Washtenaw County Townships/Cities Opt OUT of $500M Dollar Regional Transit Plan

by P.D. Lesko

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje doesn’t have a good track record of getting other politicos to jump on board his transit schemes. The WALLY commuter train was supposed to run between Washtenaw and Livingston counties and be funded by local, state and federal money. Livingston County politicos gave Hieftje the brush off, refusing to entertain the idea that their county residents would be taxed to pay for a train that would run between Howell and Ann Arbor.

AATA continues to spend money on the WALLY, despite the fact that Livingston County’s elected officials want nothing to do with a commuter train whose miniscule ridership would never support the operating costs.

Next came the “regionalization” of transit in Washtenaw County. All of Hieftje’s cronies boarded that Titanic-of-a-plan. The Ann Arbor Ecology Center, the beneficiary of multiple multi-million dollar no bid contracts thanks to the largesse of Hieftje and his Hive Mind on City Council, has been spewing out emails about the environmentalism of regional transit, even as the Ecology Center pretends that the Pall/Gelman plume of 1,4 dioxane is not creeping toward the city’s water supply nestled behind Barton Dam. The Ecology Center is all about expanding transit these days.

Using the $6 million dollars in dedicated millage money forked over each year by Ann Arbor residents, Hieftje and his transit cronies (AATA Board members, the majority of whom do not live in Ann Arbor, have expertise in transit, or even ride the bus regularly) cooked up a scheme to transfer AATA assets to a county-wide entity which would oversee a $500 million dollar expansion of transit within Washtenaw County and run the newly created transit authority. There is speculation among local politicos that Hieftje would, somehow, end up as head of the new authority, with access, finally, to a six-figure salary, a public pension and health care benefits for life.

In March 2012, Hieftje and his Hive Mind on City Council obligated Ann Arbor to participate in the hair-brained plan, despite protests from Ann Arbor residents, as well as Council members who objected to the transfer of the city’s millage, the transfer of AATA assets, the overall cost of the pie-in-the-sky plan, lack of public input, and skimpy financing details, among other issues. These people were conveniently labeled “obstructionist” and “anti-transit” by political opponents used to getting what they want by name-calling and bullying.

Turns out, the politicos recently elected to Ann Arbor City Council—who ran in support of local transit money being used to, well, fund local transit—were prescient and listening to their neighbors’ concerns. Ward 2 Council member-elect Sally Hart Petersen gave the heave-ho to regional transit Sugar Daddy Tony Derezinski and Ward 1 Council member elect Sumi Kailasapathy has, likewise, been frank in her desire to see Ann Arbor allocate local transit money to fund excellent local transit. Their opponents tried to paint the two women as “anti-transit” and even “anti-Democratic” (because as we all know, “real” Democrats support regional transit), but voters in Wards 1 and 2 were not swayed by the simplistic rhetoric.

Ward 5 Council candidate Vivienne Armentrout recently lost her bid to sit on the Ann Arbor City Council because, frankly, having her on the City Council terrified John Hieftje. Hieftje detests having to answer intelligent, informed questions. So, the Borg Queen backed a politically inexperienced drone—the husband of a woman who oversees the GetDowntown program, funded with city tax dollars, as well as by AATA. While Armentrout questioned the support a $500 million dollar regional transit boondoggle had among politicos in the county’s cities and townships, Chuck Warpehoski, with the help of thousands of dollars in donations from the Hive Mind and their real estate and developer friends, told voters that the regionalization of transit is the future our city and county need to move forward into the Great Green Cloud. Warpehoski claimed transportation was all about social justice and equality—cue finger symbols and incense.

Sixty days after the August primary election, there emerged a problem. A big problem. A huge, painful, embarrassing pimple on the arse of Hieftje’s plan to regionalize transit in Washtenaw County: to date 15 of the county’s 23 eligible cities, townships and municipalities presented with the opportunity to participate in the “regionalization” of transit in Washtenaw County have decided not to participate. This leaves Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti Township and Saline  (and those city’s taxpayers) as the only participants committed to funding Hieftje’s proposed $500,000,000 regional transit plan, some $8,064 per household, a hefty increase of the $400-$600 per year Ann Arbor taxpayers currently pay to fund AATA and local transit.

There is an excellent possibility that in November, when the newly elected City Council members Petersen and Kailasapathy have the chance to revisit Ann Arbor’s participation in the transit scheme, there will be the votes necessary to force Hieftje to watch his own city opt out of his own flawed, unpopular plan to regionalize transit by  ”repurposing” millage money from Ann Arbor taxpayers.

The map, below, comes from Vivienne Armentrout’s blog, it shows, in simple, pink detail, that the majority of the county municipalities, cities and townships want nothing to do with Hieftje’s regional transit boondoggle. As a comment in response to the news that only Ann Arbor, Saline and Ypsilanti Township are signed on to fund the transit plan and participate in it, “After all the time and money spent on planning this, it would seem that the transit planners failed to consult with the affected communities to find out whether anyone else was interested in going forward with the plan. Epic fail.”

This is an updated list of municipalities whose governing bodies have voted to opt out of the transit plan, with date of the decision following:

Lodi Twp (Oct. 2)
Sylvan Twp (Oct. 2)
Sharon Twp (Oct. 4)
Lima Twp (Oct. 8)
Saline Twp (Oct. 8)
Lyndon Twp (Oct. 9)
Salem Twp (Oct. 9)
Augusta Twp (Oct. 10)
York Twp (Oct. 11)
Bridgewater Twp (Oct. 11)
Ann Arbor Twp (Oct. 15)
Superior Township (Oct. 15)
Webster Twp (Oct. 16)
Dexter Twp (Oct. 16)
Manchester Twp (Oct. 16)

Pittsfield Township is preparing to opt out, and Milan is expected to opt out later in October, when elected officials there meet to discuss their proposed participation. Scio Township officials, Armentrout reported, were not talking about whether they intended to join the majority of the county’s other townships and bow out. It is, perhaps, a rather delicious political embarrassment for Governor Rick Snyder, who is trying desperately to sell regional transit on the state-wide level by creating an authority that would link Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne counties, that Superior Township opted out on October 15th. Snyder lives in Superior Township, and is driven back and forth to Lansing to work each day.

  

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=14605

10 Comments for “Almost ALL Washtenaw County Townships/Cities Opt OUT of $500M Dollar Regional Transit Plan”

  1. Jack,
    Thanks for responding. My assertion is hardly beyond debate but you addressed my frustration with your last sentence. In addition, I believe we are past the production peak of oil, and based on future pricing of the true cost of a gallon of gas and the calamity that will bring to a car-dependent society:

    1. Ann Arbor should be the hub of a regional train service connected to points all around- Manchester, Dexter, Chelsea, Adrian, Brighton, etc.. These outer stations would be natural points for development like they have throughout history. As opposed to every last farm put up for sale being developed.

    2. There should be bus service to satellite lots around the edge of the city where people are encouraged (through greatly limited all-day parking availability downtown, express lanes into town for buses only, coffee shops and news stands at the parking lot for waiting periods) to leave their cars and ride into the city on a regular schedule. Work schedules will have to adjust accordingly.

    3. High-speed rail from Toronto to Detroit to Ann Arbor to Kzoo to Chicago and so on. And from Detroit and Chicago to Cleveland and east, Columbus and south, Traverse City north, and so on. Amtrak is slow and sporadic but there is a point at which improvements to train service and lowering price will present a tipping point where everyone will see the beauty, simplicity and necessity of train travel. Then it can approach paying for itself. Elasticity of demand.

    4. Further into the future, Ann Arbor should be the value-add hub of all surrounding farm production. Far out Cookie-cutter neighborhoods will be dismantled and the land put back into production. The county could buy this land and people could lease it for farming. It will be harder and harder to provide services to the furthest “neighborhoods” and those people will have to be encouraged to move closer- similar to what is being attempted in Flint, Saginaw and Detroit.

    5. Shipping should be by train, not truck- to pay for the railroads and to get wasteful trucks off the interstates which are going to be increasingly difficult to maintain. Smaller trucks could unload from train stations to local points.

    And so on.

    I don’t believe most of this (or any of this) will happen BEFORE we are forced into making it happen but it would be much better if it DID happen before that. It would be cheaper now and later it may be impossible.

    Political leaders who are not planning for the end of cheap oil should not be leaders.

  2. @timjbd – Frustrating? Advocates of the “countywide” transit plan will tell you that they expected the rural areas to opt out. Putting aside the fact that we spent millions planning service into the rural areas and the new authority’s articles of incorporation provided representation to many of those areas, the fact that 24 of 28 communities opted out apparently came as no surprise to the transit partners who were pushing this plan.

    You assert that a “regional transportation system will be needed in the future” as if it is a matter beyond debate. Does such a plan make environmental sense? The plan as provided to support the “countywide” system included an emphasis on commuter service into Ann Arbor. A transit bus gets 4 to 6 miles per gallon of fuel – lets say 6. A commuter bus has no passengers on its outbound trips in the morning and its inbound trips in the evening. So it would average 3 miles per gallon for purposes of calculating passenger miles. If a commuter gets 30 miles per gallon in his or her car, then it takes 10 passengers on every commuter trip to just break even.

    Additionally, we can expect that commuter service will increase residential development around the outlying pick up points. At the same time, because commuter service does not move people from the city out to other communities, we would not expect increased residential development within the city to result from this new transit service. In other words, commuter service is likely to increase urban sprawl. I believe urban sprawl is not an environmentally sound goal.

    Lastly, if we believe that federal money will finance the building of this “countywide” scheme, then low interest rates are of no concern. We will not need to borrow any money for the capital expense of implementing expanded services. It should also be noted that urban areas that have developed great regional transit are experiencing significant problems affording the cost of operations. Both Portland Oregon and Seattle Washington had significant budget deficits going into the current fiscal year. Portland has a great system that includes light rail and free bus rides within the urban core, but faced a $13 million shortfall this year in spite of having a more dense urban area to serve.

    It would be better to develop great transit service within Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti rather than trying to serve sparsely populated areas of the county. Let the great urban transit service become a draw for people to move into town. Unfortunately, this boondoggle has caused so much harm to the credibility of our transit officials and their supporters that any plans for improvement they produce now will be poorly received.

  3. This is frustrating. A regional transportation system will be needed in the future
    and if it can be built now with fed money at today’s interest rates, it should be.
    Those chances have a tendency to not come around again. Better to have it before
    you need it than to need it and not be able to afford to build it.

  4. No suprise the mayor is a idiot, he has no business sense. Thank God I live in Saline!

  5. @Kai, the Ecology Center got paid millions of dollars to endorse the Fuller Road Station. The company got paid through no-bid contracts given to Recycle Ann Arbor through the political largesse of John Hieftje. Doing something “nice” is buying flowers. Prostituting The Ecology Center is something very different.

    • Ecology Center helping with a train station. A university unable to solve a spill. The HRWC helping with the artwork in front of city hall. Except for the Sierra Club, sometimes I think I’m the last remaining environmentalist in this city.

  6. At the last city council meeting, the Ecology Center endorsed the Fuller train station. Ironically, at that same meeting, the council voted in favor of some land deals for the greenbelt — which again, is linked to the Ecology Center. So, the Ecology Center did something ‘nice’ for city hall, and city hall did something ‘nice’ for the Ecology Center. But, your info makes it even more troubling, that the UofM (CS Mott) is basically endorsing the construction of the train station.

  7. You note that “The Ann Arbor Ecology Center . . . has been spewing out emails about the environmentalism of regional transit . . .” I’d like to note two additional connections between the Ecology Center and the “county-wide” transit plan and also raise a somewhat unrelated ethics question.

    The new chair of AATA’s board is Charles Griffith, energy and climate programs director at the Ecology Center.

    Earlier this year, the Ecology Center received three grants to promote “county-wide” transit. It got a grant of $50,000 from the CS Mott Foundation and another for $7,500 from Trans4 Michigan. A third grant of $40,000 was received from an entity whose identity I have been unable to discover (not because it is nefarious, but instead for lack of effort). These grants were reported here: http://www.annarborcil.org/2012/07/24/community-collaborative-transportation-grant-is-funded/

    The $40,000 grant is to be used to hire a part time transit advocate and for funding the efforts of like minded groups’ advocacy. Interestingly, one group that received $5,700 of that $40 thousand grant is the Interfaith Council for Justice & Peace. That group employs the Fifth Ward Council member-elect, Chuck Warpehowski.

    In November, the newly configured Council may consider a resolution to opt out of the “county-wide” transit authority. My question is whether Mr. Warpehowski will participate in voting on an issue for which his employer received funds to advocate a particular position. Bonus points if you can remember the last time Council considered the subject of excusing a member from a vote because of ethical concerns.

    • @Jack, was it Carsten Hohnke on City Place?

  8. Let’s see how actual Saline and Ypsilanti Township taxpayers feel when the tax increase millage comes up for a vote. Guessing this fiasco will be dead on arrival. Sad, really, because maybe someone with better political skills than our comic book cardboard Mayor could have actually pulled this off. Or more open and transparent leadership from our friends at the AATA, who are giving away hundreds of millions of Ann Arbor taxpayer assets in the process.

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