MDOT Is SwitchingLanes

    LANSING — A new direction for the Michigan Department of Transportation means that 34 road projects across the state, including four planned for West Michigan, are to be shelved for at least four more years.

    The new route has MDOT focusing on preserving the current highway system rather than expanding it because of fiscal concerns in Lansing. The strategic shift was recently made public.

    “During these tight budgetary times, we must focus our efforts on fixing our existing infrastructure before we look at expanding our transportation system,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

    According to the governor, the program, called Preserve First, will target key corridors with the poorest conditions and the highest traffic volumes for repair. One local project on that list involves reconstructing portions of I-96.

    “More than $180 million in preservation work will be advanced to the 2003 construction season under Preserve First, in addition to the approximately $500 million in preservation work already planned for this year,” said MDOT Director Gloria Jeff.

    The change will result in 34 projects being pulled from the current five-year plan. Here are the four West Michigan projects being deleted:

    • The Baldwin Road connector for I-196 and Chicago Drive that would run through Kent and Ottawa counties
    • An airport area access 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.

    These projects probably won’t be considered again until 2007.

    Although the Michigan Road Builders Association (MRBA) agrees that a top priority for MDOT should be preserving the existing system, the trade group doesn’t feel it should come at the expense of so many of the planned projects on the state’s to-do list.

    “We believe that a limited number of congestion relief and safety improvement projects are worthwhile and should be pursued as well,” said Gary Naeyaert, MRBA director of government and public relations.

    Naeyaert added that at the current spending rate the MDOT capital program will drop by 45 percent in 2006 from its 2001 level, meaning $600 million a year less will be spent on road repairs. That figure, he said, would translate into a loss of 25,000 jobs statewide and a demise of $3.6 billion in spin-off economic activity.

    “This is bad news for the condition of our highways, roads, streets and bridges, and turning this situation around is MRBA’s highest priority,” said Naeyaert.

    State law requires MDOT to publish a five-year road plan by February 1 of each year. But the plan for 2003 to 2007 hasn’t been published yet. Work on the new M-6, however, would reportedly continue despite the strategy change.

    MDOT did say that the delayed projects would be considered again when 90 percent of Michigan’s roads and bridges are in good shape and enough funding exits to keep those in that condition.

    “Last year, MDOT told us we were well on our way to reaching the 90 percent condition goal even with these projects in the pipeline,” said Naeyaert, “and today MDOT is telling us there is no way to reach this condition goal unless these projects are dropped.”

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