Road improvements moving forward, opinions split
By MARY WARDELL
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — The city is moving ahead on the Wright Street Reconstruction project, including three roundabouts, with the contract awarded and the last of the property acquisition wrapping up, officials said.
Construction will commence on or around May 30. The work will cover Presque Isle Avenue from College Avenue to Fair Avenue, and Wright Street from Industrial Parkway to Sugarloaf Avenue.
Traffic will experience two lanes open on Wright Street and detours for side streets, said Dennis Stachewicz, director of planning and community development.
The Marquette City Commission approved two items related to the improvement project — awarding the contract and acquiring property from Northern Michigan University — in two split votes at its first meeting in May.
The contract was awarded 6-1 to low bidder Hebert Construction for $4.25 million, which is about 7 percent less than the engineer’s original estimate, according to commission materials. A contingency fund was included at 5 percent of the bid amount.
The project is part of the 2016-17 budget and will be funded through this fiscal year’s bond package and the Lundin Road Maintenance fund, according to commission materials.
The commission also approved a purchase agreement with NMU for right-of-way property to build the roundabouts. In exchange, NMU retains rights to city-owned property to install signage, which city staff will work with NMU on developing, according to the agreement.
Stachewicz said the city is acquiring a total of five properties from three landowners for the Wright Street reconstruction project.
Commissioner Sara Cambensy opposed both decisions, saying she can’t support the roundabout planned for Presque Isle and Fair avenues without more public input.
Three roundabouts are planned to be constructed — one at the intersection of Wright Street and Lincoln Avenue, one at Wright and Sugarloaf, and one at Presque Isle and Fair.
Also planned is intersection illumination, utility replacement and sidewalk extensions.
“While I do support the Wright Street roundabouts at this point, I think it’d be wise to get a little more community input and public input on how (sic) they feel a roundabout, I guess, would be useful or not at that intersection,” Cambensy said. “I think there’s a lot of people out there that are kind of wondering ‘why there?'”
Cambensy said there are more issues with traffic flow at nearby College and Magnetic avenues, and where Third Street empties onto Fair Avenue. Also impacting traffic flow will be the unknown future use of the hospital once the new Duke LifePoint facility is complete next year, she said. She also wondered if the city was agreeing to the roundabouts to benefit NMU.
Cambensy asked Stachewicz what it would cost to do the upgrades without the roundabout at Fair and Presque Isle.
“There’s a difference between just repaving and fixing infrastructure, which it desperately needs, and the roundabout,” Cambensy said. “I think that is information that a few community members would like to see as well.”
Stachewicz said that information wasn’t available at the time.
In an email interview, Stachewicz — echoing City Manager Mike Angeli at the meeting — said there is a cost savings of approximately $300,000 associated with a roundabout as opposed to a signal, because it will save the cost of putting in a signal there and support the removal of the light at Kaye Avenue and Fourth Street.
“This is due to the fact that we are already reconstructing the street for utilities and will only need to do a simple realignment with pavement/curb,” Stachewicz said. “We see this as even more tremendous saving to the taxpayer in the long run given that upgrades and maintenance at signalized intersections are extremely costly.”
Safety is the most important factor, he added.
“Roundabouts are proven to be the safest intersection. I could cite many Federal and State references that prove roundabouts to be much, much safer for all users,” Stachewicz said, adding they’re associated with a reduction in the number and severity of traffic accidents, as well as safer two-stage crossing for pedestrians.
Commissioner Mike Plourde said he’s very fond of roundabouts because you build them and then you’re done with them.
“If we put a traffic light there, we’re going to be paying electricity everyday for the rest of the time that traffic light exists, when eventually we will put a roundabout there. If we wait longer, everyday that we wait, the more it costs and I really believe that we’re going to have a roundabout there eventually,” Plourde said.
NMU Director of Facilities and Campus Planning Jim Thams said during public comment the roundabouts will help with loading and unloading around campus, and provide an easier, safer method for students to cross streets.
“We see this as an important thing, and as such we’re not asking for any special consideration in this, but we do think it is good for both the city and the university,” Thams said.
The project design was based on recommendations from the city traffic study, the Lundin Truck Corridor Safety Plan, the community development department, the public works department, and police and fire departments. The design supports long-term safety and cost saving benefits, and is the first of several forthcoming intersection changes from signalized to roundabouts, according to commission materials.
Construction plans were developed by the city’s engineering division with assistance from DLZ of Michigan and were approved by the planning commission and the city commission during capital outlay and budget sessions.
Cambensy quoted part of the 2014 DLZ traffic study, which says a traffic signal would be the most cost-effective method to move traffic at the Presque Isle/Fair intersection, but that one isn’t warranted based on other guidance in the study.
The recommendation goes on to say that a mini-roundabout would be the other alternative for that intersection.
“So here we spend $150,000 on a traffic study, and it’s telling us that that intersection really doesn’t even warrant a traffic signal, let alone a roundabout,” Cambensy said.
Stachewicz said implementing roundabouts in the city goes back to the 2004 community master plan, when a transportation analysis of the city recommended more of them.
“It’s just that it took us 13 years to find the funding,” he said.
The plan cites the phenomenon of “speed spiking,” where drivers speed up between stop signs and intersections to make up for the time lost by stopping.
“For this reason, eliminating many of the four-way stops in Marquette, and looking for alternative controls such as roundabouts, can be a successful way to control motorists’ speed,” the plan states.
City Manager Mike Angeli said the Presque Isle improvements are part of a long-term plan to update that area, and the roundabout is easier to do now with infrastructure improvements. It also dovetails with the Johnson Controls, Inc program, as the city is looking to repair and replace traffic lights in an effort to be more energy-efficient.
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.