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MDOT Priorities Frost Congressman
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It's what's not included in a new five-year transportation plan, rather than what's proposed, that has U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, voicing objections
As the Michigan Department of Transportation plans to spend $230 million to improve state highways in the region over the next five years, Hoekstra remains dissatisfied with the state's refusal to initiate new construction to accommodate West Michigan's economic and population growth.
In a Jan. 24 letter to MDOT's director, Gloria Jeff, Hoekstra complained that the state's proposed five-year plan includes no projects to address traffic congestion on heavily traveled U.S. 31 between Holland and Grand Haven.
Nor, he indicated, does it address long-needed safety improvements at the busy interchange of I-196 and Chicago Drive in Jenison. He also charged that it doesn't address work to ease traffic backups at several key intersections in the Muskegon area.
Hoekstra believes MDOT needs to strike a better balance in its Preserve First program in which upgrades to existing highways take precedence over new construction until 80 percent of Michigan's highways and bridges are deemed in adequate condition.
Continually deferring new construction "will have a profoundly negative impact on the congestion and safety of West Michigan's transportation system and the future economic success of the region," Hoekstra wrote in his letter.
Among the major deferrals is the massive project to rebuild U.S. 31 through Ottawa County and construct a freeway bypass.
Under the current plan for the project, the state would rebuild U.S. 31 from Holland to Grand Haven, including additional lanes in both communities, and construct a freeway bypass around the Holland-Zeeland area. The route then would run north along the 120th Avenue corridor through central Ottawa County.
The state does anticipate completing an environmental impact study this year for the U.S. 31 project, although funding for design work is not included in MDOT's new five-year transportation plan.
The project — in the planning stages since the mid-1980s and discussed as far back as the early 1970s — carries an estimated price of $800 million to $1 billion.
Sue Higgins, executive director of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, a regional planning agency, says the U.S. 31 project is caught up in the state's limited funding and present focus on upgrading existing roads.
"I understand the rationale, but it doesn't take away the urgency for the deferred projects in this area," Higgins said. "The needs are very strong."
Hoekstra cites population increases of nearly 20 percent since 1990 in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties as reason for the state to alter the Preserve First policy.
Moreover, the three-county region's population grew by some 30,000 people from 2000 to 2003 alone, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates —much of that growth coming in Kent and Ottawa counties.
The region also has experienced rapid economic growth during the past decade, necessitating improvements in the highway system, Hoekstra said.
"These economic and population trends are significantly increasing the demands in the transportation system in West Michigan and compounding congestion in certain corridors," Hoekstra wrote.
Despite his objections, Hoekstra promised to work with MDOT to increase Michigan's share of federal transportation funding.
Among the projects within MDOT's eight-county Grand Region included in the five-year plan that runs from 2005 to 2009 are:
- A new interchange at I-96 and 36th Street in Kent County that will improve access to Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Preliminary construction began last year, and the project will get underway with the onset of the 2005 construction season.
- Structure replacement of the U.S. 131 and 28th Street interchange in 2005.
- Several resurfacing and rehabilitation projects in all three counties, including I-96 from Alpine Avenue to Coopersville in 2006 and U.S. 131 from Grand Rapids to Rockford, which will begin in 2005 and extend into 2007.
- Rehabilitating several bridges over I-96 east of U.S. 31 in the Grand Rapids area.
Under the plan, MDOT will upgrade more than 163 miles, or 17 percent, of the Grand Region's 939 miles of roadways and improve 85 of its 730 bridges.