Major GR highway work has a definite start date

January 15, 2010
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If the start of a decade truly begins in a year that ends with a zero, then Grand Rapids will begin its second consecutive decade with a major highway reconstruction project. This time, though, instead of the work being done in a northerly-southerly direction, it will take an east-west route.

Back in 2000, the mile-and-a-quarter north/south artery of the city — the U.S. 131 S-Curve — was reconstructed. In 2010, a section of the city’s other high-speed artery, I-196, which runs a mile-and-three-quarters, will be rebuilt, widened and aesthetically improved —and the work begins Monday, April 12.

“Starting on April 12, my advice is to stay away from I-196,” said Don Stypula, Grand Valley Metro Council executive director.

The initial work on the project, which is being called The Fix on I-196, actually began in 1998 when the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Metro Council collaborated on an engineering study. Then the council added the project to its long-range transportation plan in 2006. The price tag is $40 million. About $12 million of that is coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress approved almost a year ago.

“That is a project that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do without the federal money,” said Marsha Small of MDOT.

Construction will take place from Fuller Avenue west to the Grand River and on both sides of the highway simultaneously. Local access will be allowed from Fuller to College avenues on the westbound side and from Ottawa to College avenues for eastbound drives during the work’s first stage, which is set to be completed in August. MDOT calls this plan a modified closure.

“You’ll still be able to get into downtown Grand Rapids from both sides,” said Dennis Kent of MDOT.

Two lanes of thru-traffic on both sides will be open during the second stage, which will run from August into November. All construction is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2011.

MDOT said about 72,000 vehicles travel that stretch of I-196 on an average day, and 41,000 have downtown as a destination. Michigan, Leonard and Fulton streets are expected to carry more vehicular traffic than normal during the first stage. Vehicles not headed downtown from April through August will be detoured to M-6 and U.S. 131.

The work will mean changes for some city streets. On-street parking along Michigan Street will be eliminated, and Diamond Avenue will be closed for about a year starting this summer. The bridges on Coit, Jefferson, Eastern and Diamond will be renovated. The work to renovate the Diamond Avenue bridge hasn’t been bid yet.

The highway isn’t the only public asset that may see renovation this year. There has been talk about possible changes to the Metro Council’s membership because revenue to the townships, cities and counties that make up that roll has become more scarce. Dues to the council could become a casualty in some budgeting processes, and some municipalities may leave the group, as Jamestown Township has already done.

But Stypula told board members that when they’re asked why they belong to the council, they should point to The Fix on I-196.

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