St. Joe’s resists splitting $250K road bill with college
BENJAMIN MICHAEL SOLIS
As construction continues for the parking structure, everything seems to be going smoothly – except for the whole situation with Emergency Drive.
The Washtenaw County Road Commission mandated that if Washtenaw Community College went ahead building its parking structure, the college and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital would have to reconfigure how they use their respective sides of Emergency Drive.
As it exists, there is no designated left-turn lane on East Huron River Drive going into the college, and drivers can turn either left or right when they leaving St. Joe’s or WCC.
The change would require a left-turn lane for entering the college and the hospital, and both sides of the road would only be able to turn right when exiting onto East Huron River Drive.
St. Joe’s, however, is resistant to the change, saying that it shouldn’t have to foot the bill for something that is the result of WCC’s construction. Damon Flowers, executive vice president of Facilities Development and Operations, disagrees.
“They aren’t grasping that this is a decision made by the WCRC, not us at the school,” said Flowers. “The WCRC has wanted to make changes to the entrance. . . for a while now, and since they have had to reexamine the situation for our own entrance, they said, ‘Good, now we can fix this.’”
Yet the WCRC does not monitor entrance drives as a part of its regular protocol, according to Matt MacDonell, the commission’s permits and subdivisions supervisor.
“We don’t monitor a traffic situation until a full evaluation has taken place, and in the case of the WCC project, we weren’t aware of the changes that need to be made until we were brought in to issue the permit,” said MacDonell.
Apparently, this isn’t the first time that WCC has had problems getting St. Joe’s to cooperate. When the Fitness Center was being built, St. Joe’s originally wanted to partner with WCC.
“When we got around to actually making a decision, they decided to back off and not participate. They were in the process of building two towers and tearing down two towers, so they had a reason for backing off of that,” said President Larry Whitworth. “But the road between us and St. Joe’s here needed resurfacing, and we had to resurface the entire thing all the way down to St. Joe’s McAuley Drive.”
As it stands, the amount needed to make the traffic changes is about $250,000. St. Joe’s would like to pay $100,000, which Flowers sees as unacceptable since this is less than 50 percent of the total. The Voice made repeated phone calls to representatives at St. Joe’s, and had yet to hear back from them at the time of print.
Despite the disagreement, Flowers doesn’t expect this to hold up the process. Besides, if St. Joe’s doesn’t pay the amount they agree on, he expects the WCRC will tell them they have to restrict access going into that drive and only allow ambulances to make right turns out of drive.
“This is obviously not an option for them, because that is the main route for their EMS access,” said Flowers.
The WCRC estimated that if these changes are made, accidents and congestion would be reduced by about 80 percent. Flowers acknowledged that there have been issues with accidents, with some cars and people ending up on WCC’s lawn.
And it seems that MacDonell and the WCRC agree whole-heartedly.
“If left untouched, exiting that drive would be near impossible,” said MacDonell. “The geometry of the layout and the difficulty of judging the gap when exiting left would have to be eliminated if the warranted left turn lane was not put in place.
However, what Flowers failed to mention was that if an agreement is not reached, both sides involved in the argument would have their access restricted, and patrons exiting both the college and the hospital would only be allowed to make right turns, said MacDonell.
“We want to make sure that the changes that are made are convenient, but overall safe,” he said, citing the possibility of public outcry if an agreement is not reached.
No matter the outcome, Flowers predicts that a decision will come soon. After all, the parking structure is slated to finish by about Oct. 1, and they’ll need an agreement with contractors well before then.
On May 3, MacDonell suggested that an agreement was already in the works.
Road study delays parking structure
Planning for the parking structure has been under way for several months, but Washtenaw Community College officials are still looking for the go-ahead on the project.
The construction was slated to start this Fall, but was delayed until January. Now it’s likely that it won’t begin until at least February.
The delay is the result of the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) citing that the traffic flow around the Morris Lawrence Building and Huron River Drive would be too heavy.
“The WCRC in turn, through analysis of the proposed traffic presented by the parking structure, existing traffic pattern and traffic into St. Joe’s Emergency Drive, determined that modifications to both entrances were necessary,” said Associate Vice President of Facility Development and Operations Damon Flowers.
As a result of the extensive traffic flow, the college and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital are considering adding a left-turn lane for safer entry into WCC’s Morris Lawrence Building.
“The dedicated left turn lane at the Morris Lawrence Building and St. Joe’s Emergency entrances is the least the Washtenaw County Road Commission will accept,” said Flowers, “due to the apparent increased traffic into the college as a result of the Campus Green Parking Structure.”
Another consideration was to add a roundabout to McCauley Drive at St. Joe’s hospital, but the idea was quickly dismissed.
If the left-turn lane is added, no left turns will be legal when leaving WCC’s Morris Lawrence Building or exiting St. Joe’s from just across the street. Left turns will only be allowed to enter WCC and St. Joes from Huron River Drive.
When the parking structure was finally approved by the college’s board of trustees, the Ann Arbor Planning Commission required WCC to attain approval from the WCRC as a condition for final site plan approval of the structure.
“We did a study to find if it’s going to impact the surrounding roads,” said County Highway Engineer Roy Townsend. “Just adding the dedicated left-turn lane can reduce crashes by 80 percent.”
Huron River Drive connects WCC and St. Joe’s, and as a result the institutions will share the costs of the project, though the portion each will pay has not yet been determined, according to Flowers.
Third time a charm for Rutledge?
ELIZABETH ROSS WASHTENAW VOICE
David Rutledge knows all about perseverance. That’s why he ran twice for Superior Township supervisor in the early 1980’s and why his name will be on the Aug. 3 ballot for Michigan’s 54th District State Representative—for a third time.
Rutledge, a member of Washtenaw Community College’s Board of Trustees since 1996, and its current treasurer, said the experiences of the 1998 and 2004 race will help him as he runs again.
In 1998’s primary election, Rutledge came in second to Ruth Ann Jamnick by more than 1,000 votes according to Michigan’s Department of State Web site. In 2004 he came in fourth behind Alma Wheeler Smith and two others, who haven’t announced their candidacy for this year.
“I think each time I run and lose, I go away and get better prepared,” he said.
Michigan’s 54th district is comprised of Superior, Ypsilanti, Augusta and Salem Townships and the city of Ypsilanti.
Candidates have until May to state their plans to run, but already myriad announcements have been made, all but assuring Rutledge won’t have an easy time in the democratic primaries. He won’t be running against current State Representative Alma Wheeler Smith; she’s currently campaigning for governor.
“The thing that makes me unique is the experience level that I have in all of the relevant issues that affect us. Not from the perspective of just talking about them, from the perspective of having worked in them,” Rutledge said. “No other candidate will bring that to this district election. They may have a little bit, but not the breadth and the depth.”
Fellow board member Diana McKnight-Morton supports Rutledge’s bid for state representative.
“I feel that he’ll be very strong competition,” she said. “The reason why I say that is because unlike the last time he ran, I think he got his name out there early, people know who he is, and he’s been very active in the community.”
In addition to his work at WCC, Rutledge, 64, also serves on the Washtenaw County road commission as chair of the board, the board of the Ypsilanti Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Board of Trustees at his church and is a co-chair of an early child development organization, Success By 6.
“Collaboration doesn’t happen by accident,” Rutledge said. “We have to have somebody to push the envelope and provide a catalyst for people coming together. That’s how I see myself, as a catalyst to help with collaborative kinds of issues.”
Should Rutledge be elected, his time at WCC would be over and the Board of Trustees would appoint a replacement to take on the last four years of Rutledge’s six-year term.
“If I am elected to state government, the board would go on and it would be fine,” Rutledge said. “They would replace me and not skip a beat.”
McKnight-Morton, who’s been serving on the board since 1994, said the board has had to replace trustees in the past.
“We’d hate to see him leave, but there are always others in the wings, so to speak, that we could call on and we would fill that partial term,” she said.
Rutledge, who lives in Superior Township, said his commitment to public service was instilled at an early age by his parents.
“I was raised to understand that I had an obligation to give back and to reach back and to try to pull someone else up,” he said. “Those were just basic things I was taught all my young life and so this just seems natural and community service is extremely important to me.”
In addition to community service, Rutledge is passionate about issues like education, parks and recreation, local government and roads.
“Our road system and the spending levels for it are a travesty in this state,” Rutledge said. “There’s no way that Michigan should be ranked at the bottom nationally in its infrastructure. It just shouldn’t be.”
Many of the positions Rutledge have held have been in a leadership role, which he thinks would help him as a state representative.
“I don’t think people can become leaders without having vision, without being able to take all of things that are going on around them, synthesizing them and actually being able to figure out what that means for the future,” he said.
One thing Rutledge sees as prevalent in politics these days are politicians who can’t make decisions because they’re worried about how it will reflect upon them and how it will affect voters come re-election time.
When Rutledge holds a position, he said he focuses on that one and doesn’t look toward the next one, therefore making it easier to make tough decisions that might not necessarily be the most popular ones.
“When I first ran for township supervisor, I was not elected. But the second time around, I was. In four years we hadn’t done everything that we’d promised to do, so I ran for another term, and won,” Rutledge said. “And during that period we got to where we said we would be, and at that point I said, ‘I’m not running again.’”
Should he be elected as state representative, Rutledge said there are certain things people can look forward to.
“I think that people who live in this district can expect that I will be extremely attentive to local needs, that I’ll pay very close attention to the needs of constituents,” Rutledge said.
In addition to paying attention to the needs of the people in the district, Rutledge would also focus on job creation, needs of local government and doing what he can to help the structure of the state budget.
Rutledge cites his two children and two grandsons as his greatest accomplishments. Outside of family though, he said he’s proud of being an integral part of WCC’s upcoming parking structure and serving on the board that chose President Larry Whitworth.
“I will tell anybody WCC Board of Trustees is my favorite board to serve on because the culture of this board is one of collaboration and one of trusting each other and the input each other brings,” Rutledge said. “The diversity of our board is our strength.”
Rutledge mentions his work with Superior Township often when talking about his credentials. It happened in the 1980’s, but he believes it’s still relevant to his campaign, especially since he worked with the current township supervisor. His work with the road commission keeps him involved in other townships, too.
“One always has to ask themselves ‘how are you still relevant?’ and I’m still relevant,” he said, “because I hang out with the people who make me relevant.”