Street Talk: Let’s talk streets


’Tis the season for detours and weaving in and out of orange cones. But while Grand Rapids motorists are grappling with new ways to add five or 10 minutes to their commute, the new construction actually is the latest installment of a long-term plan.

Grand Rapids is starting its sixth season of ramped-up road construction thanks to the voter-approved Vital Streets Initiative. Drivers, walkers and bikers throughout the city this summer can expect to see improvements to more streets and sidewalks in the coming months.

By the end of June, the city will have completed preventive maintenance and reconstruction on 365 miles of streets since 2014. Grand Rapids has gone from 37% of streets being in good or fair condition to 61%, thanks to the Vital Streets program.

“Nearly every corner of Grand Rapids will see some sort of road construction or sidewalk reconstruction this summer,” said Rick DeVries, assistant city engineer.

The city has made an $11.9-million investment at 64 locations over the past year and is planning improvements on an additional 31 miles of streets for fiscal year 2020 with an investment of $12.8 million at 61 locations.

In addition, the city plans to dedicate a total of $1.8 million for various sidewalk repair and construction projects in all three city wards.

City inspectors will be in each neighborhood marking the sidewalks to be replaced. Properties that have sidewalk repairs in sections that cross through their driveways will get a 48-hour notice posted to their property informing of them of the upcoming work and expected duration the driveway will be unavailable. The duration of work performed in front of any home will average one week.

Other projects, with tentative schedules, include rotomill/resurfacing and preventive maintenance, as well as water main, sanitary and storm sewer reconstruction.

Vital Streets projects are backed by a voter-approved plan in 2014 that extended a local income tax levy for 15 years. Vital Streets investment, along with a road funding commitment by the state, ensures 70% of city streets reach fair to good condition within 15 years.

“These investments demonstrate our commitment to mobility, which is one of our strategic priorities,” said City Manager Mark Washington. “We want to make sure we have a good transit network in our city.”

Stocking up

With retail sales rising and President Donald Trump saying he plans to both increase and broaden tariffs on goods from China, imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to see unusually high levels the remainder of this spring and through the summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released last week by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Much of this is driven by consumer demand, but retailers are likely to resume stocking up merchandise before new tariffs can take effect,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Tariff increases and new tariffs will mean higher costs for U.S. businesses, higher prices for American consumers and lost jobs for many American workers. We encourage the administration to stay focused on a trade agreement, and we hope the negotiations will get back on track. It would be unfortunate to undermine the progress that has been made with more tit-for-tat tariffs that only punish Americans.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

The rush to bring merchandise into the country that was seen through much of last year slowed down after Trump postponed a tariff hike from January to March and then put it on hold indefinitely as trade talks with China showed signs of progress. But Trump said last week that 10% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will rise to 25% and that he plans to impose new 25% tariffs on most remaining Chinese goods at an unspecified date.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 0.6% from February but up 4.4% year over year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

April was estimated at 1.76 million TEU, up 7.7% year over year. May is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, up 4.2%; June at 1.92 million TEU, up 3.7%; July at 1.96 million TEU, up 3%; August at 1.98 million TEU, up 4.6%; and September at 1.91 million, up 2%. Imports have never before hit the 1.9 million TEU mark earlier than July. And the August number would be the highest monthly total since the record 2 million TEU record set last October.

“Consumption is facing the potential of increased tariffs on Chinese imports if President Trump’s tweets are anything to go by,” said Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates founder. “One can only hope that this is a simple negotiating tactic that will run out of steam.”

By degrees

Grand Rapids Community College has identified nearly 300 students who met all of the requirements for an associate degree but never claimed it.

GRCC, along with multiple other Michigan community colleges, plans to reach out to these former students as part of the national Degrees When Due initiative.

This effort, led in Michigan by the Michigan Community College Association’s Center for Student Success and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, was designed to help improve degree completion, especially among students with some college credits but no degree.

Michigan is part of the first group of participating states.

“A degree will help students get ahead as they move forward in life,” said Tina Hoxie, GRCC associate provost. “We want to make sure people are able to use the credentials they’ve earned and benefit from their academic success and hard work.”

Hoxie said some people might not be aware they earned enough credits for a degree, or that they are within a final few classes of being eligible.

Big accomplishment

Doug Small, president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, was elected to the U.S. Travel Association board of directors.

The U.S. Travel Association is the national, nonprofit organization representing all components of the travel industry, which generates $2.4 trillion in economic output and supports 15.6 million American jobs.

As the united voice of the industry, the association identifies the industry’s biggest opportunities and challenges, as well as develops messages and actions to create growth.

“I plan to apply my 30-plus years of experience in the hospitality and travel industry, network with other travel and tourism leaders and bring back to our destination ideas and innovations to propel Kent County area tourism for the future,” Small said.

Small has worked in travel and tourism his entire career, 10 years locally, as well as in Dayton, Ohio; Syracuse, New York; Palm Springs, California; and Denver.

The work of Experience Grand Rapids, which is the tourism marketing arm for Kent County, led to a record-breaking year for Kent County hotels in 2018. From 2017 to 2018, hotel room revenue increased 2.1% to $216 million and was the highest ever recorded for Kent County.

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