Nearly two months ago, it was announced the speed limit would go up on the highway, but MDOT has not put up the new signs yet. MDOT first focused on getting 70 mph signs changed to 75 mph on 600 miles of freeways, mostly in northern Lower Michigan.
Now MDOT will be working on getting signs replaced on hundreds of miles of state trunkline. Most of those speed limits will be raised from 55 mph to 65 mph.
M-231 opened to traffic in Ottawa County in late October 2015 as a bypass around Grand Haven. The road connects I-96 to the north and M-45 on the southern end, and was posted with 55 mph speed limit signs.
Internal emails obtained by the WZZM-TV Watchdog team last year showed leaders at the Michigan State Police believed the speed limit was under posted and should be raised. There was a wide belief last year the majority of people felt comfortable driving faster and the road was designed to handle higher speeds.
Lt. Gary Megge, a long-time expert from the Michigan State Police Traffic Services Division, did a site visit of M-231 in January 2016 and wrote an email to leaders within MDOT and the MSP.
"After driving the 7-mile bypass in both the northbound and southbound directions, it became very apparent that the current 55 mph speed limit did not seem appropriate," Megge said.
Megge said there are zero driveways and only one intersection, and the entire length is fenced and is "truly limited access."
"Given the nature of the highway and the prevailing traffic speeds, it would seem appropriate to correct the speed limit on the M-231 bypass to either 65 or 70 mph," Megge wrote.
Megge wrote in an email that he was going to "attempt to work with MDOT to get the speed limit corrected on this highway." His emails show the state's speed study on M-231 had a benchmark average of approximately 65 mph in both directions.
MDOT, though, did not make changes as requested by the state police. Lawmakers, though, changed speed limit guidelines late last year and M-231 was included in a list to be changed. MDOT and the MSP had to agree to make speed limit changes on any state road.
A WZZM-TV study concluded 88 percent of all M-231 drivers were breaking the law by going over the speed limit, indicating it's an easy location for officers, troopers or deputies to catch people breaking the law. Experts say it's preferable to set a speed limit where approximately 15 percent of people are driving faster than the limit. The television station’s study showed the 85th percentile speed on M-231 was 63 mph, indicating 55 mph was off the mark.
"That one is so glaringly obvious, and I believe the state police and local authorities were all aware that the posted limit was well below travel speeds," Walker said. "Anybody who's driving around 65, 67, 63, those are the safest drivers on the road."
M-231 is likely one of West Michigan's most enforced highways, according to the internal emails obtained by the WZZM-TV investigative team through the Freedom of Information Act from the Michigan State Police. The road is approximately 3 miles away from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office.