Bridge Expansion Begins Soon

March 6, 2006
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WALKER — The Michigan Department of Transportation intends to begin resurfacing I-96 from the city of Marne all the way to Alpine Avenue in Walker, and the Walker Avenue and I-96 bridge will be expanded from two to six lanes as part of the project.

“It’s a pretty critical pinch point there,” said Walker City Manager Cathy Vander Muelen. “We’ve had a problem there for a long time, where the traffic backs up on the off-ramp in the morning going westbound on I-96 as everybody is going to work. Then at night, everybody is getting out of work, and when you go across the bridge going south and try to turn left onto eastbound I-96 it just backs way up past the bridge.”

The project, which includes reconfiguration of the bridge’s ramps, has been in the works for a couple of years, and it’s kind of a private-public-MDOT partnership, Vander Muelen noted. The total cost of widening the bridge and improving its on- and off-ramps is $4.5 million. The city will fund somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000 of that amount.

“We haven’t quite nailed that down yet because there are two or three pots of money that MDOT is going to be funding that project with, and the city’s contribution is going to depend on the final numbers from MDOT,” she explained.

The city’s contribution will go toward improvements at the off-ramps and the bridge at

Walker Avenue
and I-96, so the money stays in Walker, Vander Muelen pointed out.

A developer is also putting some money into the bridge project. The developers of the Grand Rapids Ophthalmology facility to the north of I-96 are contributing $148,000 toward the project. MDOT will pick up the major portion of the cost and hopes to have the entire project finished in November.

The city sent out 600 letters of notification on the project and has already conducted its first public meeting with area businesses and residents to discuss it.

“We have a lot of businesses in the city that are going to have to be kept in the loop,” she said. “This is an improvement that is necessary, and it’s really going to improve things there. The flow of the traffic will be great.”

Vander Muelen noted that residents can track the project’s progress and keep on top of lane closures and detour routes by logging on to MDOT’s Web site.

“We’ve had a good history with MDOT. They worked with us on the

Lake Michigan Drive
project and the M-45 and Wilson project,” Vander Muelen observed. “For all these major projects there has been a contribution by the city to make those projects feasible and get the improvements done.”    

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