Government and Travel & Tourism

MDOT trying to reduce delays on highways

Transportation agency takes some blame for lack of road funding

August 9, 2013
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The Michigan Department of Transportation’s Grand Region, which maintains more than 3,000 miles of state roadways in West Michigan, told the Grand Valley Metro Council recently it has a goal to reduce non-reoccurring delays on heavily-traveled I-96 and US-131 by 10 percent.

“We’re on target with that goal,” said Grand Region engineer and director Roger Stafford. “MDOT has had a customer focus for a long time; since 1999 when we developed our business plan.”

Stafford said there are two key projects underway in the region this summer. One is the corridor study MDOT is conducting for I-96 and US-131. “Our focus is on preservation of those sites. The study will continue well into 2014,” he said.

The other involves building a new two-lane limited access roadway, M-231, from M-45 north to the I-96/M-104/120th Avenue roadway near Nunica in Ottawa County. “The full facility will be open in late 2015 or early 2016, depending on the funding,” said Stafford.

Other work includes adding bridge slides at I-96 and M-50 in Kent County. Stafford said the slides are built off-site and installed at night. He added that construction work along east M-231 is one of three completely paperless pilot projects MDOT is undertaking this year.

MDOT reported it is investing $100 million this year in the Grand Region that will be spent to improve 191 miles of roadway and 25 bridges. About $25 million of that total is being spent in Grand Rapids.

Stafford said $115 million in road funds will be available on Oct. 1, the first day of MDOT’s new fiscal year, and an additional $115 million may be allocated on Feb. 1, 2014.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, a GVMC board member, told Stafford the relationship the council has with the Grand Region is good and he felt that state lawmakers need to find out for themselves how well the regional office operates.

“We’ve got a great regional team here and we appreciate your comments,” said MDOT Director of Government Affairs Kelly Bartlett. “We’re here to help,” said GVMC Executive Director John Weiss.

Bartlett told council members MDOT was disappointed that legislators didn’t increasing funding to the $1.5 billion level the governor requested. But he also admitted that the agency came up short. “We failed.  We did not convince lawmakers of the need for transportation funding,” he said.

“We’ve gone through the whole spring and summer now with no action. We have to change our approach,” he added.

Bartlett said MDOT has three public-private funding partnerships that are in the works and the trio will be reviewed by the state commission on transportation. “We have to give them reasons to believe that we’re operating differently,” he said.

Legislators, though, did come up with about a third of the requested funding amount, roughly $400 million for transportation. “The real question is when do they get it?” said Bartlett of when lawmakers will realize the importance of road money. “We believe our numbers are right; $1.5 billion.”

Weiss told Bartlett the latest data shows local governments are spending large amounts of money on road projects and state lawmakers seem to be unaware of that. “We are ready to responsibly spend that money,” said Bartlett. 

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