GRAND RAPIDS — The construction of M-6, also known as the South Beltline and Paul B. Henry Freeway, will account for more than three-quarters of the road dollars that the Michigan Department of Transportation will spend in the region over the next two years.
The cost of MDOT projects for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 totals $230 million, with $176 million of that being spent on the 20-mile highway that will connect I-96 with I-196 and will swing east-west commuters south of Grand Rapids.
MDOT will spend nearly $116 million during FY02 on a variety of transportation items, with the M-6 project getting $84 million of that total. The following fiscal year, the agency will invest $114 million in the region, with $92 million targeted for the South Beltline.
The first segment of the new highway is expected to be completed by early next year, a stretch that runs from I-96 to M-37. The next few years will find construction being done from M-37 to U.S. 131 and from U.S. 131 to I-196.
“Our schedule right now is to open that by 2005. What we will probably do is open both segments at about the same time because so much of that work is dependant on what is going on either side of it, particularly 131,” said Dennis Kent of MDOT.
“In addition to that, you’ll see a widening of 131 between 76th Street and 44th Street. That six-lane section will continue all the way down to 76th Street, when that is open,” he added.
Later this year, MDOT will repave U.S. 131 from 76th Street to 108th Street.
The MDOT projects are part of the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) that was approved recently by the Grand Valley Metro Council (GVMC), the region’s planning agency. The TIP sheet contains an assortment of transportation and transit projects over the next three years. But only those that are scheduled for the next two years will likely get funded now. Projects three years out will be reviewed next year and be funded then.
“No money gets spent unless the project is in the TIP,” said GVMC Executive Director Jerry Felix. “There is never enough money to do all the projects.”
All projects that use federal highway dollars have to be included in the TIP, which also contains a number of non-MDOT projects.
GVMC Transportation Director Abed Itanti explained how projects make the TIP sheet. The council’s road management system highlights congested areas and pavement problems. Roads with the most traffic and those in the worst condition usually take priority on the list.
“We make the lists and forward the lists to the TIP committee members, and they select projects from those lists. So any project for resurfacing or widening came from a deficiency list,” said Itanti. “It has to be deficient to receive federal funds.”
Lou Lambert, of MDOT, said the agency has been working with the federal government to simplify the TIP process.
“I think there has been some tremendous streamlining efficiencies in the operation, not just here but all over the state,” he said. “A project must be consistent with the (state work) plan in order to be included in the Transportation Improvement Program and be available for federal aid.”