Help Coming For 'Health Hill'

October 6, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — A project to improve access to medical facilities on Michigan Street’s “Health Hill” will get underway next spring with the backing of a $416,000 grant from the Michigan State Transportation Economic Development Fund.

All told, the project will cost $540,000 and will include the construction of turn lanes along the U.S. 131 Business Route, or Division Avenue, to provide access to Michigan Street and to the Christman Co.’s new parking structure across the street from the Van Andel Institute. The project is intended to support the medical and life sciences infrastructure on the hill, including the VAI’s expansion, the new parking structure, medical office towers, the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital at Spectrum Health.

The Transportation Economic Development Fund helps finance highway and street projects necessary to pave the way for economic development and growth. The Right Place Inc., working on behalf of the VAI and Spectrum, applied for the grant and shepherded it through the award process, said Right Place President Birgit Klohs.

“In order to get Transportation Economic Development funds, there has to be a beneficiary that is tied to jobs,” Klohs explained. “The largest creators of those jobs on the hill are Spectrum and VAI. But rather than have those two organizations apply separately, we offered to write the application for them; that was fine with them since they are economic development job generators on the hill and we are the economic development organization. MDOT was extremely amenable to having it done that way and was very collaborative.”

The total project cost will be $540,000. MDOT and the city are splitting the 20 percent match for the $416,000 grant. MDOT also is providing $57,000 from regional transportation funds, and the city has secured $71,000 from Christman to complete the match.

Running concurrently with the Division Avenue improvements, MDOT will invest $4 million from the Jobs Today Initiative to widen and lengthen the Michigan Street Bridge over the U.S. 131 Business Route and further enhance access to developments on the hill. From a grant perspective, the two projects aren’t related, because they’re financed out of two separate pots of money, Klohs pointed out.

Vice President Rick Chapla, who heads up Right Place’s urban redevelopment activities, said the access that currently goes off Division on the east side up to Michigan Street is not going to be affected by the TEDF project, but it hasn’t been determined as yet whether that access will be enhanced or eliminated as part of MDOT’s engineering plans for the Michigan Street Bridge.

The TEDF project calls for a dedicated turn lane on Division Avenue under the bridge for traffic moving northbound. That turn lane will allow drivers to turn into the Christman parking structure on Michigan Street. For traffic moving southbound on Division, there will be a dedicated left-hand turn lane that will allow drivers to get to Michigan Street.

The Michigan Street Bridge, for all intents and purposes, is going to be physically removed. MDOT’s plan is to rebuild the bridge with more lane width, wider sidewalks and widened approaches to the bridge. Dawn Garner, a communications representative for MDOT, said the four-lane bridge is going to be widened to six lanes.

Basically, what’s being added is a right turn lane for traffic moving eastbound on Michigan, going up the hill, said Garner. Downhill, or westbound, there will also be a right turn lane. There will also be a dedicated bus lane to keep buses out of the flow of regular traffic, and two lanes for through traffic in both directions will remain, she said.

“It certainly will improve the access and traffic flow through there,” Garner remarked. “It’s also going to help Division Avenue down below, because where the abutments are right now causes sight-distance issues for those trying to turn into the parking lot. By moving those back, it will enhance safety on Division and help people trying to get to and from that parking lot.”

Garner said the design for the bridge is expected to be completed in December, the project will be bid out in March, and construction will begin next spring and be completed in the fall. The TEDF project will follow the same construction schedule.    

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