Fate of Troy Transit Center Uncertain as Council Nears Vote
The center would allow for connections to other modes of transportation, including potential connections with future bus and train lines.
The Troy Transit Center, a project 10 years in the planning, now hangs in the balance, dependent on a single vote from Troy City Council Monday that is expected to determine whether the project moves forward to the design phase or is scrapped altogether.
If the project is scrapped, a $8.4 million grant would be returned to the Federal Railroad Administration to be used to fund a transit project elsewhere in the United States.
Mayor Janice Daniels, who was elected Nov. 8, has expressed concern over the project since taking over as mayor.
"My biggest problem is spending money that we don't have," Daniels said during the Nov. 21 City Council meeting. "I would think it would be more responsible to repair the economy. ... I'm not opposed to public transportation, I'm opposed to debt spending."
Meanwhile, the Troy Chamber of Commerce, along with several local businesses, have openly supported the transit center, saying it would help bring business to Troy.
The Troy City Council will vote on the issue during its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Troy City Hall.
A decade in the works
The transit center project began in 2000 when the city of Troy was granted 2.7 acres intended to be used for a multimodal transit center near Coolidge and Maple in a consent judgment that required developer Grand Sakwa Management to deed over the property to the city in order to be able to develop the surrounding property.
"In the deed, there's a condition that the transit center be funded within 10 years, which would be June 2 of 2010," Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said.
In 2010, Grand Sakwa filed a motion seeking to have the property returned to it, saying that the transit center project was not funded by the June deadline.
"They lost their argument," Bluhm said, adding that the consent judgment didn't require the transit center to be fully funded — just partially, which Bluhm said it was at the time.
Grand Sakwa has been denied on motions for reconsideration and had its appeal dismissed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, Bluhm said.
Grand Sakwa filed an application in November asking the Court of Appeals for permission to appeal the case once more; the courts have not yet decided whether to grant the developer permission to file the appeal.
"There are a lot of procedural hurdles they have to overcome," Bluhm said, adding that right now, the land is the sole property of the city of Troy, despite several attempts by Grand Sakwa to reclaim it.
In January 2010, Troy's transit center project was selected to receive a federal grant from the Federal Railroad Administration in the amount of $8.4 million. So far, the city has not used any of the grant money, Bluhm said.
"The first grant-eligible expense would be the design, which is the contract that is up before City Council — to award the design to a contractor on Monday night," Bluhm said.
On Sept. 12, the Troy City Council approved a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to proceed with the design and construction phase of the transit center.
At the Nov. 21 City Council meeting, Daniels halted progress on the transit center in favor of studying the project further and hearing opposing viewpoints to the project. At that meeting, Troy City Manager John Szerlag asked the City Council to make a decision by Dec. 19 so the project could either move forward or be scrapped.
The case against the transit center
Newly elected council members Tietz and Henderson have indicated they do not support the transit center project.
"It's no secret I'm opposed to it," Henderson said. He cited an increasing federal deficit and unrealistic revenue projections for the transit center as reasons for opposing the project as it is proposed.
"The federal government cannot afford to keep spending money the way it's been spending," Henderson said. "The money they're allowing for this project is fake money, it's not there, it's debt that our kids are going to be paying off for years and years."
In addition, Henderson said the city of Troy would still have to pay for the maintenance of the building and that the project, even though it is federally funded, would still cost Troy taxpayers money.
Henderson said he believed the revenue projections for the project were "pumped up and unrealistic," and he added that he is concerned about falling housing values for surrounding homes. He said he does not believe that building a transit center will automatically entice more people to use public transportation.
"If you look at the reality of 'If you build it, they will come' from Field of Dreams, that's now a vacant field — nobody plays baseball on it, and it's used as a tourist attraction in the middle of Iowa."
He added that a smaller project might be more appropriate for Troy.
"If we can build something for a million dollars with a parking lot and a heated facility with a kiosk where you can buy your tickets ... that makes a lot more sense than spending $8.4 million to build this palatial structure in hopes that 19,000 riders turns into 51,000 and brings $53 million a year in revenue," Henderson said.
He added, "The infrastructure just isn't there."
Other fiscally conservative groups in the area, including Troy Citizens United, of which Daniels is a member, oppose the transit center. Troy Citizens United posted on its Facebook page last month: "The Governor of Florida told The Feds to take their transit money back and so should the City of Troy."
Others are calling the train station a "boondoggle," including Troy resident Dale Murrish, who wrote in an Oct. 20 Letter to the Editor:
"Troy’s $8 million train station is a disgrace for a city that can’t keep its library open without a tax increase. Just because the money is coming from a different pot doesn’t mean it’s free. It’s still our tax money, even if it is 'standard MDOT funding.' It’s not like the state and federal governments have extra money to burn."
Who wants the transit center
While Daniels, Henderson and Tietz appear to oppose the transit center, Mayor Pro Tem Maureen McGinnis and council members Jim Campbell and Dane Slater appear in favor of the project, as does the Troy Chamber of Commerce.
"Since I've been on council in the past two years, we've received a lot of feedback from businesses and residents," McGinnis said, "and I think the support is still there, if not more so from the feedback we've received. I hope the project continues as planned."
McGinnis said transportation alternatives are things people consider when they decide where they want to live, work and conduct business.
"It's something many other major cities have, and I feel like it's something that Michigan needs to do to become competitive in that area," she said. "It's something the businesses want."
Michele Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, agreed, saying the chamber fully supports the transit center as it is proposed and that voting down the project would be detrimental to Troy's businesses.
"The chamber sees this as an important opportunity to stimulate a commercial and residential economic renaissance in Troy," Hodges said. "The number of jobs generated is significant ... and it makes Troy a destination."
She said the transit center would increase property values and, in turn, increase tax revenues for Troy.
She rebuffed Henderson's idea of building a smaller transit center, saying, "It's been studied by the experts, and the size that's being built is appropriate for the usage that is expected there."
She added that the Troy Chamber of Commerce has recently expressed to City Council its intent to evaluate the transit center, if built, as a potential location for the chamber's offices.
Councilman Wade Fleming, who has voted both for and against the transit center in the past, could be the swing vote Monday evening in the vote that determines whether the project will continue.
"I voted for it before, but I had some concerns about it," Fleming said. "I'm taking input from people and trying to get my questions answered regarding the transit center to make the best decision I possibly can."
Like Henderson, Fleming is concerned about funding the operating cost of the transit center, which is estimated to be $30,000 a year.
Today, I can't tell you how I'm going to vote," Fleming said. "I don't know."
What about the light rail?
This week, it was announced the plan for a light-rail line on Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and Eight Mile had been scrapped in favor of a system of high-speed city and suburban buses. On Thursday, a group of wealthy investors said they won't give up trying to build the rail, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The loss of the light rail project should not be seen as detrimental to the transit center project, said Robin Boyle, professor and chair of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Wayne State University and former chair of the Urban Land Institute Michigan.
"People do not pay attention to what the transit center is proposed to do," Boyle said. "It is not a rail center or a station, it is not dedicated to one single mode of transportation."
Boyle said the flexibility of bus service offers benefits that fixed-rail transportation such as the light rail does not, and it is less costly to maintain than implementing and maintaining a new rail project.
"Troy is an incredibly important employment center," Boyle added. "It is one of the most important employment centers in the region, never mind just in Oakland County.
"Facilitating movement into Troy using a bus rapid transport system is, in my opinion, a good thing for Troy and a good thing for the region and a good thing for people seeking work."
“It sounds to me like the focus is still on the regional transit system," McGinnis said. "It’s just finding a way to make sure they’ll still be able to cover all the costs once it’s in place."
"This project was a project with or without the Woodward light rail," Hodges agreed. "It was centered on the bus and Amtrak long-distance rail services."
Still, some individuals, including Henderson, are worried about the impact of the decision to scrap the light rail project.
"I think it takes a pretty big bite out of the importance of a transit center in Troy," he said. "When you look at the grids in the project reports that show where all these train tracks are going to be servicing the area, and all of the sudden all of those tracks are drafted off the maps they're showing you, it doesn't paint a favorable picture for a large production in the location the transit center is in."
What happens next?
Troy City Council is expected to vote during its meeting Monday to commence the design phase of the transit center project or abandon the project altogether. If the council votes to scrap the project, the grant money will be returned to the Federal Railroad Administration for use in another transit project, possibly in another state.
McGinnis added that the odds of Troy receiving funds for transit projects in the future are "slim to none" if the project is voted down.