The project, which reconstructed the street from Fifth Street to just west of Garfield Avenue, turned what had been four lanes of traffic into a two-lane corridor with a center turning lane. When it was first proposed in 2006, many businesses along the affected stretch opposed the change.
“We did go to all the planning commission meetings and city commission meetings,” said Dick Lutey, co-owner of Lutey’s Heritage Motors at 729 W. Washington St. “We spoke in favor of having the street redone but maintaining four lanes.”
However, Lutey said it’s too soon to tell what the results of the reconfiguration will be.
There hasn’t been an official traffic count since the street reopened, but Lutey said it appears there is a lot less traffic.
“Presumably it would take more time to build it back,” he said. “Essentially, the street was closed from May to November and people develop different habits.”
Although he recently bought some land in Marquette Township for a sales lot, Lutey said his main business is staying where it is.
“Car selling is very much an impulse thing ... greater exposure will help us,” he said. “For our service facility (the Washington Street location) is fine. It’s a destination.”
Marquette City Commission member John Kivela said the new three-lane system doesn’t work.
“I’ve heard several complaints about the speed of traffic, the fact there aren’t gaps in the traffic, how it’s very hard to pull out from the different businesses along that corridor,” Kivela said.
Kivela said some motorists avoid Washington and use Bluff Street, posing a safety threat to a mostly residential neighborhood.
“The best thing we can do is extend Seventh Street because that takes the pressure off cars that are coming down Washington Street to turn up Seventh,” Kivela said. “It gets them coming right off the bypass and zipping up to the university and the hospital.”
Bill Todd, owner of City Insurance Group and the City Center — the office building complex on the 700 block of West Washington Street that also houses Alltel — said he has had no problems getting in and out of his business.
“The way it is right now, cars are going a lot slower so they can actually see the businesses that (they) are going by, it’s easier for them to turn into the business because they’re going slower,” Todd said.
If cars prefer taking a faster route, they should take the U.S. 41 bypass, he said.
“The bypass in my mind — if you want to go quickly somewhere — that’s the road to use, not Washington Street,” Todd said.
Capt. Russ Kilgren of the Marquette City Police Department said he doesn’t know of any traffic accidents that have occurred in that area of Washington Street since the reconstruction.
“I don’t think we have very many accidents now, I don’t think we had many before, for the volume of traffic that drove on that,” he said. “It’s only been open for a few months so it’s tough to put any kind of time frame on it.”
The area had a speed limit of 35 mph before the reconstruction and is now 25 mph. Kilgren said the reduction in speed was implemented to accommodate vehicles turning in and out of businesses on the street.
However, Kilgren said he has heard complaints about the length of the traffic light on Seventh Street.
Dave Guizzetti, service director of MediRide EMS, which has an office at 925 W. Washington St., said his ambulance drivers have had no problems driving up and down Washington Street.
“What they did to the street in front of our building, it looks much more presentable and I think they did a nice job with the beautification process,” Guizzetti said.
Guizzetti said he was initially concerned with maintaining access to the EMS service facility on Washington while construction took place, but said the city and the engineering department did a “fantastic job ensuring access.”
Motorists travel on the reconfigured three-lane section of Washington Street in Marquette early this morning. (Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)