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BROOKY: Why you can't turn left after Grand Haven fireworks shows

• Jul 16, 2018 at 3:00 PM

I should listen to my wife more. She’s smarter than me, but sometimes I am just too dumb to remember that.

She proved it again late on the night of July 4.

Instead of catching the fireworks with the big crowd in Grand Haven, like we do most years, we decided to kayak the White River and then watch the fireworks over White Lake at Whitehall/Montague. Nice, by the way, but not quite up to Grand Haven’s standards.

On the way home, the Michigan Department of Transportation posted a flashing message along southbound U.S. 31 to warn of the traffic delays in Grand Haven due to the fireworks show.

That’s when Sherry says, “How about taking I-96 to M-231 to get home?” Since we live east of the highway, we would avoid Grand Haven and probably get home quicker, so she theorizes.

No, I say, we probably can turn left at Jackson Street and avoid the rush out of town. And we’ll chuckle at all those poor saps stuck in the big jam.

After all these years living here, you would think I’d know better. Like I said, sometimes I’m too dumb to remember.

So, we proceed to Grand Haven and, lo and behold, the left-turn lane for eastbound Jackson Street is open! Cars are moving into it to turn left. So, that’s what I did.

Big mistake.

An Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office patrol car was parked with its overhead lights flashing, blocking me and countless others from turning left onto Jackson. But there was no warning ahead of that — no barricades or anything to indicate the closure. And really, you could not see the parked patrol car when you entered the left-turn lane.

After at least a half-hour in the left-turn lane with nowhere to go, I had inched up to the front of the line and then was able to squeeze back into a southbound lane.

But the traffic was horrendous the rest of the way through town.

Every intersection and turn to go east, as you may know, is blocked. They have school buses parked sideways at the intersection and barricades lining the turn lanes, except at Jackson — the longest turn lane and the one you can’t see is blocked until it’s too late.

Why?

I asked the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety for the reason that left (east) turns are blocked for the length of Beacon Boulevard (U.S. 31) following the fireworks shows on the Fourth of July and the Coast Guard Festival.

“We block the intersections to try to eliminate making Beacon into a one-lane road,” explained Lt. Chip Wright, the department’s traffic specialist.

For an example, the turn lane from southbound Beacon to go east on Fulton Avenue only has room for six average cars, so a seventh car would be at least partially (if not completely) blocking the left southbound lane, holding up traffic heading south even further.

“Put this at several intersections like this along Beacon and we are getting people southbound on a one-lane highway,” Wright said. “This happened a couple years ago before we used trucks (to block the intersections). People simply moved the barricades and it took us well over three hours to get people out of town.”

Yikes.

Police were able to borrow local school buses this year to block the intersections after the July 4 fireworks show. Wright says that frees up the city’s dump trucks to block downtown intersections. And that frees up personnel where they’re needed. It’s very labor-intensive to have officers manning all the intersections, Wright says.

OK, that makes sense. But still, how about allowing us to turn onto Jackson from southbound U.S. 31?

Of course, they don’t want you turning right toward the downtown and waterfront; there are a lot of people walking in the road heading toward the east side of the highway for home or where they parked their cars to avoid the jam. A lot of people. And it’s dark.

But turning east onto Jackson? Wright says they will be reviewing that idea.

He does agree that it could help both southbound and northbound traffic, but is unsure if they can make it work. He’s concerned about the safety of the pedestrians crossing the highway to either walk back to their cars at Walgreens or The Home Depot parking lots, or even into Spring Lake — as well as not having enough personnel to safely work the turn lane.

But he promises they will look at that, as they review the traffic flow after every Fourth of July and Coast Guard Festival.

The goal, Wright says, is “anything we can do to alleviate getting people out as safely and quickly as possible.”

As for not barricading the left-turn lane onto Jackson? Wright takes the blame for that.

“There should have been barricades placed at the beginning of the turn lane so you knew it was closed,” he said. “I must not have given clear enough direction to the personnel at that intersection.”

It’s coming up again soon — the Coast Guard Festival’s fireworks, the ensuing traffic congestion and the practice of preventing southbound Beacon Boulevard traffic from turning east.

And before we get caught up in the traffic congestion again, I will listen to my wife for a better route home.

— Mark Brooky is the Tribune’s news editor, which includes overseeing the Opinion page.

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