From The Detroit News:
After a decade of planning, a transit center tying together train, bus, taxi and future light rail service in Troy appeared to be near fruition this fall.
The facility is supposed to open by October 2013, but a shakeup at City Hall has put construction in doubt. Mayor Janice Daniels, elected last month on a tea party platform, and several City Council members want Troy to halt the project, forfeiting $8.4 million in federal funds and ownership of the 3-acre site.
The City Council approved an agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation in September that requires the city to award a contract for architectural and engineering services by mid-December. The council is to vote on the contract Dec. 19.
“If we don’t move forward, the project won’t move forward,” said Councilwoman Maureen McGinnis. “The process that we went through to be selected for the grant was arduous. To get this far and essentially drop the ball would be a definite black eye.”
Daniels said the federal government is already trillions of dollars in the hole and she doesn’t want to accept its “debt money” to fund the project.
“Any of that money we use is money that our children or grandchildren are going to have to pay back,” she said. “I’m not interested in building anything that’s going to be a burden on the backs of our children.”
Daniels, a member of a Troy-based anti-tax group, vocally opposed a library tax approved by voters in August.
Troy Multi-Modal Transit Facility backers said it would keep the city competitive and retain and attract business and younger families. But opponents question whether the center is needed and express concern about the cost of running and maintaining it. They also fear the 24-hour facility could drive up crime.
Meeting is tonight
The City Council is urging residents, businesses and other stakeholders to weigh in on the proposal at tonight’s council meeting and when the panel votes in two weeks.
Dave Henderson, one of three council members elected last month, sees no need to rush it. “We should build it after a regional rail system is established,” he said. The transit center project is fully funded through a rail grant from federal stimulus funds.
Therese Cody, the programs operation manager for passenger rail with MDOT, said if Troy doesn’t accept the money, it will be reallocated to another rail project, potentially in another state.
“It’s going to be their decision,” said Cody, who has worked on the Troy project since 2000. “Along the route, some communities embrace the train and others want it just to pass through.”
Cody added that besides Troy, funding has come through for rail projects in Dearborn and Battle Creek, and others are under way in Jackson, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. Pontiac opened a new transit center in August.
“There’s a lot happening in Michigan,” she said. “We’ve been talking a long time … but there wasn’t a lot of money to kick it over the top. Now we’re seeing it.”
Daniels said the city should pay for such a big project itself — even if it takes another decade. She said she’s planning to recommend that the city designate a savings account for the project and that a portion of the city’s reserve fund be added each year.
The city partnered with Birmingham on the transit project in 2000, when developer Grand Sakwa, under a consent judgment, donated the land to Troy with the condition it be used for the transit center. The property, behind the Midtown Square shopping plaza near Maple Road and Coolidge Highway, was to revert to Grand Sakwa if development deadlines were not met.
Birmingham left the project in April after talks to buy land next to the CN Railway tracks failed. Birmingham has a free-standing bus enclosure at the rail station, where three trains arrive and three trains depart daily.
The proposed Troy center is designed to be a regional transportation hub and would be built around Birmingham’s Amtrak line and station and provide a transfer point to SMART bus service, taxis and limousines.
The facility would include a bridge, elevators, four SMART bus slips and reconfiguration of 116 parking spaces behind the shopping plaza.
Worries about crime
Councilman Wade Fleming said he had “reluctantly” supported the transit center, but now he’s unsure. “I’m trying to evaluate the merit of it,” he said. Fleming said he worries the 24-hour center could lead to more crime. “It could be a place where people who don’t have another place to go hang out,” he said. “If that’s the case, it’s going to require more police.”
Troy City Engineer Steve Vandette said the city would have to pay about $30,000 annually for maintenance and utility costs. The site, he said, will be equipped with security cameras. Police patrol the busy shopping district now, and additional officers won’t likely be required if the center is built, he added.
Troy Chamber of Commerce President Michele Hodges said the transit center would keep the city competitive.
“Troy has always prided itself on being city of tomorrow today,” she said. “If we miss these opportunities to compete, that reputation begins to diminish and we can’t afford that.”