(TNS) — ANN ARBOR, Mich. —The Ann Arbor City Council was divided Monday night on whether to spend nearly $352,000 to hire a consultant to take a big-picture look at the city's transportation systems.
After some debate, the council voted 6-4 to approve the 15-month contract at its Sept. 17 meeting, with opposition from Anne Bannister, Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.
The city plans to spend roughly $440,000 on a comprehensive transportation plan update, counting city staff time.
The goal is to put together a document to help the city maintain a long-term view of its transportation systems and develop near-term and long-term priorities in terms of projects the city may undertake in the coming years to improve how people get around.
City Administrator Howard Lazarus suggested how self-driving cars fit into Ann Arbor's future may be one consideration.
Lazarus said the city's transportation plan is about 10 years old and a lot has changed in the last decade.
He said there's an increased focus on non-motorized transportation such as walking and bicycling, and there are some concerns about how transit services will be integrated into the future.
"Ten years ago we weren't talking about autonomous vehicles," he added, noting the city also has seen new development over the last decade, so the plan update will help the city start planning for some of the large transportation projects that may be needed.
The city is still actively pursuing plans for a $55 million urban trail known as the Treeline, which it expects community donations and outside grants to help fund, and a potentially $86 million train station at Fuller Park that it expects to be mostly federally funded.
Improving accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists also continues to be a focus for the city.
Lazarus said the city also will continue to make progress on improving the condition of city streets, which he discussed in a recent memo.
Mayor Christopher Taylor and his allies were in favor of the contract for the transportation plan update Monday night.
Graydon Krapohl was absent.
At the recommendation of the city's staff, the council is hiring Sam Schwartz Consultants LLC, a New York City-based traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm with a regional office in Chicago. The firm will complete professional planning, public engagement, engineering and "Vision Zero" design efforts as part of developing a new comprehensive transportation plan.
The new comprehensive transportation plan is expected to replace the city's existing transportation plan and non-motorized transportation plan and become part of the city's master plan.
The total project cost is $439,670, which includes $88,000 in city staff support.
The total cost of the consultant contract is $351,670, which includes a base cost of $334,520 and $17,150 to further engage the public and other stakeholders in the planning process.
Those opposed argued that, rather than hiring another consultant, the money would be better spent on making actual transportation improvements already identified as needs through past planning initiatives and voiced as priorities by community members, such as improved street lighting and pedestrian safety upgrades.
Council Member Zachary Ackerman, D-3rd Ward, argued the consultant fees will be money well spent to plan for the future and is only a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars the city will spend in the coming years on the types of improvements others said they want.
"We're paying for a really quality firm," he said, adding he's also interested in the public engagement part of the contract.
Raymond Hess, the city's transportation manager, said the planning effort will be guided by an advisory committee of stakeholders and will include substantial public involvement.
"The consultant will define, develop and recommend implementation activities for a multimodal transportation systems approach to local plans, policies, and programs that support a goal of zero fatalities," Hess wrote in a memo to council.
Hess said the consultant's planning process will establish community goals for the city's transportation system, including context-sensitive designs and speeds appropriate for enhancing safety and mobility for all system users. Additionally, he said, the consultant will review current practices and work with community stakeholders to establish clear goals, objectives and action steps to achieve a goal of zero fatalities and severe injuries on the city's streets.
Hess said budget limitations do not allow for a typical project contingency fund, so if additional funds are needed to complete the plan update, city staff may return to council.
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