Council Down On Granholm Plan

    GRAND RAPIDS — Preserve First hasn’t made a lasting impression on members of the Grand Valley Metro Council.

    At the May meeting of the region’s planning agency, which is responsible for carrying out transportation programs in the area, board members passed a resolution that opposes Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s decision to delay four road projects in West Michigan for at least four more years. GVMC wants to see the projects restored.

    The governor last month unveiled Preserve First, which directs the Michigan Department of Transportation to focus on repairing the current system instead of building new stretches.

    Preserve First is a change in direction for MDOT from the last five years, and it means that 34 projects across the state will likely be shelved until at least 2007. Four of the 34 projects were scheduled for the region.

    Granholm said the state’s budget deficit, the largest in decades, was the main reason for altering MDOT’s game plan. The change is expected to be in place until 90 percent of state roads are considered to be in good condition.

    “Right now our No. 1 priority is to be fiscally responsible and make sure our existing roads are in the best possible condition,” said Gloria Jeff, newly appointed state transportation director.

    With a $1.7 billion budget deficit looming for FY04, the governor’s program pulled the following projects off the active list:

    • The Baldwin Road connector for I-196 and Chicago Drive that would run through Kent and Ottawa counties.
    • An airport access area at I-96 and 36th Street in Kent County.
    • A stretch of I-96 east of the Thornapple River in Kent County.
    • A length of U.S. 31 from Holland to Grand Haven in Ottawa County.

    Mark Knudsen, who represents Ottawa County on the Metro Council, was disappointed that the U.S. 31 bypass was shifted to the delayed list. He said the state has already spent $6.5 million on the environmental aspects of the project.

    GVMC Transportation Director Abed Itani told board members that state roads aren’t reaching the 15-year life span they are supposed to attain. He said most need repairs within six or seven years. Itani added that local officials weren’t consulted about Preserve First.

    Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie, also a Metro Council member, said the resolution would go to area lawmakers in Lansing for their effort to get the projects back on track.

    The vote to oppose the governor’s program was unanimous. The Metro Council has 32 member communities.

    “I think this organization is large enough that someone will look at where it came from,” said GVMC Chairman Jim Buck of the resolution. Buck is also mayor of Grandville.

    Two weeks after she announced Preserve First, the governor revealed 10 improvement projects that will be funded through a partnership recently formed between MDOT and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

    This effort, called the Target Industries Program, aims to provide upgrades — such as resurfacing, reconstruction and widening — that encourage private investment. Its goal is to retain and create jobs. Improvements will be made near companies that may expand their operations.

    One of the 10 projects is in Kent County, while another is in Ottawa County. In Kent, work will be done near Magna Mirror at its Bowne Township plant and will cost $1 million. In Ottawa, nearly $2 million worth of congestion relief will be done near Request Foods, Great Lake Woods, Sordal Inc. and Magna Donnelly Corp.

    Two months ago, Granholm proposed spending $3.2 billion on roads for the upcoming fiscal year. That amount works out to be 3.5 percent more than the current $3.09 billion budget for transportation.           

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