South Beltline Work Is Cruising Along

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids' newest freeway will begin taking on a much more pronounced shape this spring as construction crews begin building the dozens of overpasses and underpasses required across southern Kent and Ottawa counties.

The single biggest aspect of construction coming up this year for the South Beltline project is a new interchange at U.S. 131 — a project that alone will take three years to complete.

With work occurring throughout the entire 20-mile South Beltline corridor this coming construction season, residents and motorists will begin seeing the full scope of the freeway project, said Ari Adler, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Much of the work since the South Beltline's November 1997 groundbreaking has involved construction of the I-96 interchange on the east side and grading work for the first phase that will stretch from M-37 to I-96.

"A lot of people haven't realized how much has been done already. They haven't seen a lot of what's going on because it's hard to visualize," Adler said. "This will be a big year for that. People will really see where it's going to be."

The South Beltline, designated as M-6, will provide a new east-west link across southern Kent County and southeastern Ottawa County, cutting in half the time it takes motorists to travel the same distance using surface streets.

The state originally estimated the cost of the project at $420 million. Those estimates, however, have ballooned as the state added the reconstruction and upgrading of adjoining roadways to the project, Adler said. MDOT decided to have upgrades on surrounding roadways — including the widening of U.S. 131 to the north and south of the new interchange — coincide with construction on the South Beltline, rather than wait until work on each phase of the freeway was complete.

"We're right there working. Now was the time to do it," Adler said.

MDOT is building the South Beltline in three phases.

The first 5.7-mile stretch, from M-37 to I-96, is scheduled to open by 2002. Various aspects of the first phase are 50 percent to 60 percent complete, said Eric Kind, a project engineer on the South Beltline.

The next two phases are scheduled for completion by 2005.

The second phase includes a 7.4-mile stretch between M-37 and U.S. 131, with an interchange in between at Kalamazoo Avenue.

The third phase will connect U.S. 131 and I-196, with an interchange planned for just west of 8th Avenue in Ottawa County's Georgetown Township. Additional interchanges are planned for Byron Center Avenue, Wilson Avenue and 8th Avenue.

Once complete, the South Beltline will carry estimated peak traffic loads of 80,000 vehicles per day in the area of U.S. 131, its busiest point, according to traffic projections MDOT developed in 1993. Traffic loads will reach 40,000 vehicles per day on the South Beltline's western end at 8th Avenue, and 50,000 vehicles per day on the eastern end of the corridor, according to the 1993 projections.

The South Beltline should take some pressure off of surface roads that are experiencing rising traffic counts, such as 44th and 84th streets, and provide a new route from the south and the east to access Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

The freeway, however, won't provide as much relief to 28th Street. Much of the traffic on 28th Street is going to a specific destination along that route, Adler said.

"Most people on 28th are there because they are visiting something and they have to be on 28th," he said.

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