New information on roundabout projects

Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority administrator Carol Fulsher addresses the crowd during a public meeting hosted by the Michigan Department of Transportation on Wednesday at the Marquette Township Hall. At the meeting, MDOT provided an update on a 2019 project consisting of two roundabouts on U.S. 41 and a proposed non-motorized underpass. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Two roundabouts and an underpass for non-motorized traffic appear to be on the horizon on the U.S. 41 corridor in Marquette Township as long as the remaining funding can get ironed out.

The key takeaways were safety and economic drivers during a joint meeting on Wednesday at the Marquette Township Hall, where 40 people gathered to hear an update on the roughly $8.8 miliion Michigan Department of Transportation construction projects.

Slated to begin in 2019, the project consists of reconstruction of U.S. 41 from east of Marquette County Road 492 to just west of Brickyard Road. In addition, the signalized intersections at Brickyard Road and County Road 492 near Target and Walmart will be replaced by two roundabouts.

In addition to the proposed road reconstruction, which will be paid for using $6.7 million in MDOT road preservation, traffic and safety funds, a $2.5 million multi-use tunnel crossing under the highway from AT&T to Menards is expected to be part of the project, said Rob Tervo, manager of MDOT’s Ishpeming Transportation Service Center.

Both aspects of the project are meant to modernize the roadway, giving safe access to vehicles traveling on it and also to the businesses that have cropped up in the area in the last two decades.

“It really comes down to safety,” Tervo said, “This road right here, (U.S. 41), built some 40 years ago, didn’t have all the development around it that it does today. It was primarily used to get cars from one side to the other east to west, west to east and in the last 20 years this area has really exploded with development. That development requires a lot of turning movement and that road was never designed to handle the turning volumes that you see out there today.”

The township received conditional funding for the 14-foot-wide 12-foot high tunnel of about $2.4 million in September from combined sources, and have received $80,000 in private donations, but would have to commit to coming up with the remaining $125,000 in grant matches to pay for the project.

Marquette Township Supervisor Lyn Durant asked Tervo how much time the township board might have to approve a resolution that would commit the township to come up with the remaining funds for the underpass as well as $250,000 to provide lighting for the roundabouts.

“I guess my question is — because we are on the hook for whatever the two cost — is Dec. 19 our absolute drop-dead date for that resolution?” Durant said. “We have a lot of residents that aren’t really ready to cover that kind of debt for something that they see, and are hearing that is some sort of a recreation thing that is not necessary. It’s not that none of us are for this, or we think it’s a bad idea or whatever… it’s totally the money committment, that is what’s scaring us.”

The MDOT resolution, Tervo said, is a committment of intent that an agreement will be signed at a later date.

“I understand folks have some concerns and some reservations about that,” Tervo said. “I would very much like that committment as soon as we can get it, and if there wasn’t — we would have to make some hard decisions.”

Durant said the board had asked township planner Jason McCarthy to contact area businesses and organizations to establish firm comittments on donations.

“As far back as we can put this, just makes it easier for us to guarantee it,” Durant said. “We have to try to figure out how to accomplish this once-in-a-lifetime project that could help the whole county, but still, we are accountable to our residents, so that’s where the board sits.”

McCarthy told meeting attendees that the overall goal of completing the project without using any taxpayer funds is still feasable.

“We believed that user groups and industries that would benefit would realize the benefit of the project and donate toward it, and that could still happen,” McCarthy said.

The $250,000 for lighting could be paid with a safety funds grant applied for through the Marquette County Road Commission, McCarthy said.

“We are expecting to apply for those funds by the end of the week,” McCarthy said.

Iron Ore Heritage Trail Administrator Carol Fulsher urged attendees to consider the underpass as more of a transportation project than a recreation project.

“I just want to challenge township residents to think about this as a transportation tunnel, not just recreation,” Fulsher said. “More and more people do not have cars, do not want cars. Kids, older people, may not have them any more and if you live in Bishop Woods and want to get to Target, how do you do it — on foot or biking safely?”

The Marquette Township Board is expected to address the MDOT resolution at a regular meeting on Dec. 19. Those with questions about the project or who wish to make a donation to the underpass project are asked to contact McCarthy at 906-228-6220.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.