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December 5, 2012

Troy Transit Center project gets under way

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

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Troy city leaders ceremoniously shovel dirt to mark the start of construction on the Troy Transit Center at an event on site Nov. 27.
The Wolverine Line of the Amtrak passenger train chugs by on schedule during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Troy Transit Center Nov. 27.
 

The Amtrak passenger train rumbled down the tracks on schedule moments before Troy City Council members and others turned dirt to break ground on the Troy Transit Center Nov. 27.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, Birmingham city officials, members of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, Troy city staff and officials — including former mayors and council members — and numerous residents came out on a sunny but chilly morning for the groundbreaking ceremony on Doyle Drive, west of Coolidge and south of Maple on the Troy side of the train tracks.

Peters helped to secure $1.3 million in federal funding and also urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to approve $8.4 million in funding for the Troy Transit Center. The Troy City Council capped costs on the center at $6.2 million.

“This was a long time in coming,” Peters said. “This is a big part of what we need to do to transform the region,” Peters said. “We’ve got to put the pieces together.”

He said the Troy Transit Center would allow passengers to integrate into the regional system and high-speed rail.

“We have to do what every other major region has done,” he added.

The project stalled last December, after the council failed to approve an architectural contract, in effect rejecting the federal funding, in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Pro Tem Maureen McGinnis and council members Jim Campbell and Dane Slater supported it. This past January, a divided council capped total costs for the project at $6.2 million and accepted the federal funding in separate 4-3 votes with council members Doug Tietz, Dave Henderson and Wade Fleming and Mayor Janice Daniels supporting the cap and Fleming, McGinnis, Slater and Campbell accepting the funding.

Peters said he was determined to keep the money for use in this area. “Royal Oak was very interested,” he said of the funding. He noted that, when he contacted federal transportation officials to ask how to proceed, he was told that they never had a city turn money down.

“Significant leaders got us here,” said Kirk Steudle, Michigan transportation director. “Stations are a big interest to me. That’s where economic development happens.” He noted that part of the rail corridor on the line from Pontiac to Chicago includes a corridor with the fastest train, 110 mph from Kalamazoo to Indiana. He added that that would be expanded to the Dearborn-to-Indiana line.

Thomas Connolly, general supervisor for Amtrak Central Division, said that Amtrak has had 31 million riders so far in 2012.

“This was a hard-fought effort and a very worthy project,” he said. “Amtrak is happy to service it for many years to come.”

Glenn Lapin, economic development specialist for Troy, said that 1,670 passengers boarded the Wolverine Line of Amtrak train at the Birmingham station this past October, a 20 percent increase in ridership from October of last year. He added ridership numbers are expected to grow with completion of the Troy Transit Center.

“I knew we would get to the light at the end of the train tunnel,” said Michele Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce. “The work is not over.”

She added that the chamber was working to find a business model to support operating costs, estimated at $30,000 annually, based on other city facilities.

“I can’t tell you how honored I am to stand here today,” said Slater, appointed mayor Nov. 26. “About a year ago, this project almost died.” He credited Fleming for working with him, city and business leaders for finding a compromise and keeping the project alive, and the council for approving it.

“We are all behind this now,” Slater said of the present council. Daniels consistently voted against approving the transit center project during her tenure, most recently at the Oct. 22 council meeting on approval of a maximum price on construction costs. She stated then, “I’m being true to my principal opposition and voting no.”

Voters recalled Daniels from office of mayor by 1,770 votes, or 52.2 percent, Nov. 6.

“We want to move forward from today,” Slater said.

City Engineer Steve Vandette explained that work on the foundations, elevator towers, bridge supports, and water and sewer lines would be done first, while the power lines near the construction site have been de-energized. “They will be re-energized in May,” he said.

The project, which stands on 2.4 acres, includes a 2,000-square-foot building with a waiting area and public restrooms, 24,000-square-foot pedestrian bridge over to the tracks in Birmingham, an elevator, slips for buses and taxi stands, enhancements to the Amtrak platform and designated parking space on the Troy side.

Fleming said he was concerned about what he thought were spiraling costs on the transit center and wanted to use the federal funding wisely. “It started out at a couple million, to over $8 million and growing,” he said. “I thought Troy needed this. I’m very happy to see this come about. It’s a good day. The sun is shining in Troy.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.