To overcome the obstacle, the township is considering a different route, negotiating an easement along an 80-acre property on the south side of 160th Avenue.
The so-called Beukema property recently changed hands, and the township is seeking the easement from the new owners to connect the pathway between Lincoln and Ferris streets. The expansion project is nearing its final phase, adding 10 miles to the township’s existing 28-mile system.
Officials said at last week’s Township Board meeting that the project team determined the Michigan Department of Transportation would likely not approve a right of way permit to build along the highway. Officials previously stated that MDOT had denied the permit.
In late February, the Township Board discussed the potential for paving 160th Avenue before building the pathway, which could be eligible for paving under the township’s Capital Improvement Plan. The road is commonly traveled after school lets out at Grand Haven High School, officials said.
With or without a permit from MDOT, the highway route presents building challenges. Township Public Services Director Mark VerBerkmoes said constructing a boardwalk over wetlands along the highway could cost up to $80 per foot — a cost likely prohibitive to going this route.
Craig Yoas, a bicyclist who frequents the township’s pathway system, has called on the township to consider building along the highway. He has previously criticized the township’s ground striping and signage along the pathway system. The township resident said the plan to forgo the highway would limit nonmotorized transportation to businesses along U.S. 31.
“This new proposal ignores access to the church and extensive retail stores along that area,” Yoas said. “This places people that travel by bike in direct danger of riding along the side of the highway and crossing high-speed traffic in an uncontrolled manner.”
VerBerkmoes said MDOT considers pathways to be intended for recreational usage, not transportation.
Cargo said the township is confirming with state officials that building on the right of way would likely be denied, but said he would be “shocked” if a permit were granted.