UM, Ann Arbor may link campuses, downtown by light rail

The Detroit News

The University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor are considering construction of a 4.78-mile light rail system to carry students and others between downtown and the university’s central, medical and north campuses.

A draft study released Wednesday estimates the project would cost between $560 million and $680 million and produce a transit system that would carry a weekday average of 31,600 riders by 2040. Funding sources could include federal and state money.

Named the Connector, the light-rail system would have nine stops between the northeast and south side of Ann Arbor, with electric-powered vehicles traveling on standard railroad tracks. The route would run from Plymouth Road/U.S. 23 to downtown, with a park-and-ride lot recommended near the Plymouth/U.S. 23 interchange.

A second phase of the project would connect downtown and UM’s central campus with Briarwood Mall.

The study projects construction to start in 2025. “Depending on the selected project, construction is likely to take about two years,” the study says.

The report recommends light rail over other options, including elevated rail, bus rapid transit and standard bus service.

UM officials have previously discussed ways to improve transit between the school’s Ann Arbor campuses. Late last summer, UM President Mark Schlissel told The Detroit News the school was talking with Ann Arbor and with automakers about building a high-speed connector between the north and central campuses.

“We’ve been thinking and talking for a number of years and we are continuing to plan and also talking with the city of Ann Arbor about some kind of higher capacity, high-speed connector,” Schlissel said. “Right now, we have buses traveling on city streets and you can saturate that. We’ve basically saturated that.”

Besides the university and the city, others involved in the study include the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority and the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study.