The Fix on 196

June 21, 2009
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Downtown will be fully open when the city’s major east-west expressway is completely closed.

That is the point the Downtown Alliance wanted to get across last week when the nonprofit organization, which provides marketing support for the district’s businesses, held an informational meeting on the upcoming I-196 construction project.

“The goal is to keep everyone informed and not frustrated,” said Ray Kisor, chairman of the alliance. “Downtown will always be open for business.”

“It’s going to be easier to get downtown because all the through traffic will be detoured,” said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the alliance.

Nearly 1.8 miles of I-196, from Fuller Avenue west to the Grand River, will be rebuilt in two stages. The project will replace the existing concrete pavement in both the eastbound and westbound portions of the expressway. The work will also add a concrete median barrier, a third through-lane, and merge lanes at the interchanges of Fuller, College and Ottawa avenues.

Dubbed by the Michigan Department of Transportation as “The Fix on 196,” the project will also replace the bridges over Coit, Eastern and Lafayette avenues. New signage, lighting upgrades and improvements to the road’s drainage are also part of the work.

“Our goal is to keep as much open as far as access goes,” said Art Green, MDOT project manager based in the Grand Rapids office.

Green said 72,000 vehicles travel along that stretch of I-196 daily. Drivers not headed downtown will be detoured to M-6, I-96 and U.S. 131, which should alleviate some of the traffic that normally passes through the district.

“About 55 percent of the cars have destinations downtown. We really need to concentrate on downtown,” he said.

The project will cost $41.6 million and MDOT will begin soliciting construction bids in September, the same month the prep work for the first stage is expected to begin. The heart of the first-stage work is set to be done from December to September 2010. During the first phase, the expressway will be closed but will have modified local access at Fuller and College avenues for westbound traffic and at Ottawa and College avenues for eastbound vehicles.

The reconstruction portion of stage two is expected to be finished in December 2010, with the entire project to be completed in the summer of 2011. During the second phase, two lanes of through traffic will be allowed in both directions. But Green said there will be some temporary closures and there will be partial access to Fuller, College and Ottawa avenues.

Green doesn’t foresee any difficulties with accessing downtown during the project.

“There is a ton of capacity in that grid,” he said. “We’ve also coordinated our work with the development on Michigan Street hill.”

City Public Works Director Patrick Bush, who also oversees traffic safety, told the Business Journal that his department will keep a close eye on any possible backups that may develop on downtown streets during construction and will make adjustments to traffic signals to alleviate congestion.

“We’re going to monitor the entire downtown grid. We have it all wired in by our fiber-optics cable throughout the whole downtown. So we’ll take a look at it on a daily basis and make adjustments as needed. If we observe backups, we’ll adjust the timing to take care of those,” he said.

“As soon as MDOT starts making changes on the highway, as soon as they start closing interchanges or making adjustments, we’ll see impacts along the Michigan (Street) corridor. In fact, we’re (making adjustments) right now with the College bridge. This isn’t something that is new to us; it’s something we’ve been doing all along,” he added.

Once the project starts, Green said all drivers going south on Ottawa Avenue will be allowed to turn left onto Michigan Street. Right now, only those traveling westbound I-196 and exiting at Ottawa can go east on Michigan. He also said pavement upgrades will be made to Fuller Avenue as part of the project and landscaping is planned for the new bridges.

Bush said the construction work that has closed the bridge at Bridge Street will be done before the expressway project starts, meaning downtown commuters will be able to cross the Grand River there.

Green said MDOT plans to offer “real time” updates on the project’s progress on the department’s Web site, www.michigan.gov/mdot, and hold an informational meeting later this summer.

“There will always be access to two interchanges,” said Green. “If we can accomplish access downtown, then we can take care of the majority of our customers.”

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