A resolution from the West Michigan Metropolitan Transportation Planning Program (WestPlan) officially requests MDOT to explore funding options to preserve the route to extend the state highway.
The primary land in question is the would-be intersection with I-196 in Zeeland, where the bypass would eventually end if it is completed.
The first phase of the so-called U.S. 31 bypass opened in 2015 after two decades of planning. M-231 begins at the intersection of M-104 in Crockery Township and ends at Lake Michigan Drive (M-45) in Robinson Township.
Ottawa County Commissioner Roger Bergman, who chairs the WestPlan policy committee, approached the Grand Haven City Council on Monday with the resolution. Economic development is ongoing along the proposed route, Bergman said, and MDOT needs to get the issue “off the back burner.”
“If they lose some of that land, especially where it intersects with 196, that would be an expensive undertaking for the state to reconfigure,” he said.
Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb said protecting the route is “imperative,” while councilmen Michael Fritz and Bob Monetza also voiced support of the resolution.
“That’s what the hazard is as this lingers,” Monetza said. “We want MDOT to look carefully at this route, what’s becoming of it, or identify another route.”
MDOT Grand Region Communication Director John Richard said the state agency does not currently have a formal commitment to completing M-231. Protecting the potential corridor will be considered as MDOT evaluates traffic solutions in the area, he said.
MDOT’s priority is preserving existing state roads and improving pavement and bridge conditions, Richard added.
“Michigan is and has been ranked at the bottom nationally when it comes to road and bridge investment,” he said. “So we, as well as other road agencies, typically exhaust our annual funding just to maintain the existing system.”
Traffic count is up
The Ottawa County Road Commission has seen an increase in traffic on primary roads in the vicinity of M-231.
There has been a 30 percent increase on 120th Avenue north of Port Sheldon Street and about an 80 percent increase south of M-45. Lincoln Street has seen a 35 percent increase in traffic east of 144th Avenue and a 75 percent increase west of M-231.
Road Commission Communications Director Alex Doty said the increases are likely due to the presence of M-231, but they could also be attributed to development in the area and an improving economy.
WestPlan is one of three regional metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) emphasizing the need to protect the potential corridor. The impetus behind the first phase of the project was to improve traffic conditions, including southbound traffic on U.S. 31 through Grand Haven, and between Muskegon and Holland.
“M-231 in its current state does not take a lot of the truck traffic from Beacon Boulevard,” Bergman said. “The long-term goal was to get some of the truck traffic, some of the heavy traffic, people going to cottages and vacation homes up north. … This would be a way for them to go on a divided highway all the way up to I-96.”
Bergman said MDOT officials regularly attend the WestPlan meetings, and he expects the future of M-231 will continue to be addressed this month.