The operation near State St. and E. Stadium is expected to generate twenty to fifty daily truck trips between the site and I-94 during the upcoming road construction season.
The railroad runs between the north side of Ann Arbor and Toledo. As it passes the U-M athletic campus, the right-of-way is wider than usual–the railroad once had sidings there to serve U-M football fans. Now the AARR’s owner, Watco Companies of Pittsburg, Kansas, plans to use the space to transfer gravel brought in by train to trucks bound for Michigan road construction projects.
The trucks will enter and exit the yard via a new road off State opposite Stimson St. They will fill up at the pile, turn around, and head back onto State.
Neither the city nor the university has the power to stop the project. “The railroads were given very strong authorities in the nineteenth century to settle and put rails in the West,” explains city administrator Howard Lazarus, “including the ability to override local zoning.”
“We’ve gotten two memos from the administration letting us know it’s coming,” says Ward 5 councilmember Ali Ramlawi. “But without any assurances in place, there hasn’t been a lot of detailed information.”
Lazarus says his biggest concern is dust and traffic from the new road. Between the gravel trucks and a raft of street closures this summer for reconstruction projects, he says, “People around here will get a feel for what ‘fix the darn roads’ means.”
The gravel pile and the loading and unloading operation will mainly affect the athletic campus and U-M service buildings on Kipke Dr. “University officials are aware of the plan,” writes U-M spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen. “We pride ourselves on strong relationships with our neighbors and look forward to learning more about this project.”
Planners for the Treeline Trail had eyed the same stretch of right-of-way. The railroad’s gravel plan put an end to that. But the city is still mulling options for routing the trail through that area, and the “Ann Arbor Railroad has been helpful so far in helping us identify locations for this,” Lazarus says. “The positive outcome [of the gravel discussion] is we’ll get their help on some parts of the Treeline.”
Lazarus says he does not know how long the loading operation is planned to last but adds, “they have an agreement with a third party to operate it, so I presume as long as it’s profitable, it’ll continue.”
“Given their choice, most people would prefer it not be there,” Lazarus says. “But given that they have the right to do it and near godlike powers, we’re all trying to make the best of an awkward situation.”