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Sunday, 09 March 2014 23:10

GR highway study focuses on maintenance while advocates push reinvention

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As the state begins a study on preserving key highway infrastructure running through downtown Grand Rapids, some urbanist advocates would rather have the discussion focus on reinventing the system to better accommodate a range of users.

Last Thursday, the Michigan Department of Transportation invited Grand Rapids citizens to share their thoughts and concerns on the future of the U.S. 131 and I-196 corridors.

While the gathering hosted by MDOT and URS, the engineering consultant group hired to perform the maintenance study for the two highways, had strong attendance, the sentiment from attendees was mixed, if not disappointed.

“It’s as if this meeting was just a way for MDOT to check a box and say, ‘Look, we did it — we had this meeting.’” said Mark Miller, an architect at Nederveld Inc. “It’s imperative we have transparency in this process, but I don’t think we’re getting that here.”

Echoing Miller’s sentiments were attendees who are part of a loose-knit coalition of business people and urban advocates known as #rethink131. Many in the group were hoping have for an open dialogue on alternatives other than just maintaining the current infrastructure, which they argue does not encourage placemaking and acts as a barrier between key parts of the city.

[RELATED: Urban advocates suggest a radical move to improve Grand Rapids’ urban vitality]

At the open house event, attendees were asked to write out suggestions and mark up large satellite maps for various sections of both highway corridors, primarily by indicating changes or improvements they’d like to see in the future. Some suggested razing the S-Curve and replacing it with an at-grade urban boulevard while others said they’d like to see the addition of weave-merge lanes to improve the flow of traffic.

But even some of the attendees who provided suggestions said they were concerned about how their input would be put to use by MDOT.

A spokesman from the agency said the community discussion was meant to focus narrowly on a maintenance plan for the two highways.

“This is a very early study in the process of looking at the future of (U.S. 131) and what we have to do to preserve the asset that we have,” said Dennis Kent, regional transportation direction and project manager with MDOT. “There is a limit to the scope of the study. It’s not really designed to really reinvent the entire transportation system in Kent County — that’s a much bigger and broader discussion that involves more people, and quite frankly, will involve more money.”

For the current study, Kent said the state agency and URS will group similar comments and at some point, roll out a presentation outlining the main ideas and some possible outcomes.

However, a report based on responses at the recent meeting and one planned to take place at the Walker Fire Station on March 12 will not be available for about 18 months, Kent said.

As to whether the study would incorporate any of the socio-economic, environmental or alternative transportation concerns that many advocates want to see the state address, Kent said that would likely be a later step.

“I suspect there will be plenty of people at some point willing to explain their comments if we missed something,” he said.

Read 2545 times Last modified on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 14:13

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