“Our plan is to study it, do traffic counts, get through this whole calendar year, and see what things look like on both U.S. 31 and in Grand Haven,” said Vicki Weerstra, associate engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Grand Region.
That was the message delivered Wednesday afternoon during a Muskegon/Northern Ottawa County Metropolitan Planning Organization transit committee meeting at Grand Haven City Hall.
MDOT plans to study the impact of M-231 on U.S. 31 traffic in Grand Haven through 2018, at which point they would conduct analysis of the findings. Transit officials would then come back to the regional transit committee and city to discuss how to proceed with any changes to the road — changes that transit officials say wouldn’t involve making the highway six lanes wide through the whole town.
“I’m not here to sell three lanes (per side) through town today,” Weerstra said.
Instead, state officials offered a glimpse of three possible plans that could be implemented on the boulevard, with the first two priorities being the addition of dedicated right-turn lanes on both north- and southbound U.S. 31 at Jackson Street.
“Those are two things I think we can implement to help this intersection and help the queue get out of there faster,” Weerstra said.
A third option would be to extend a third lane of the highway from Columbus Avenue to just north of the left turn in front of Wendy’s.
Talk about possible changes to U.S. 31 dates back more than a decade. The original plans called for widening U.S. 31 from Comstock Street north to the Grand River as part of the M-231 project. The plans for U.S. 31 were scaled back due to funding limitations, and the final 2010 M-231 Environmental Impact Statement included the widening of six blocks of U.S. 31 from Franklin Avenue north to Jackson Street.
Mayor Geri McCaleb said she thought the change of adding six lanes and nearly eliminating the landscaped median would have a negative impact on the city.
“To make that a concrete wasteland is going to be devastating for our community,” she said, noting that she is concerned about maintaining both vehicular and pedestrian access between the east and west sides of town.
McCaleb also questioned whether any of the studies would be effective until M-231 is constructed as originally planned, from M-104 south to I-196 in southern Ottawa County.
In 2013, Grand Haven City Council approved a resolution that asked the state to hold off on the addition of new lanes that would result in near elimination of the boulevard between Washington Avenue and Jackson Street until the entire M-231 project is complete and proper traffic analysis could be conducted to show a need for more lanes.