GR road project on hold until it meets city standards

State Street SE in Grand Rapids. (Feb. 11, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Look around State Street SE or Bostwick Avenue NE near Grand Rapids Community College and the roads don’t lie: Pothole are screaming to be repaired.

But Wednesday morning, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. — the city’s downtown development authority — sidelined a $1.8 million project that would have fixed those two stretches of road.

Mayor George Heartwell, who serves on the board of DGR Inc., says that the current proposal drafted by a city engineer and approved by the Michigan Department of Transportation did not fit the vision the agency has for streets.

“The project that the DDA looked at today did not meet several of those standards. Yes, it had some bicycle lanes but it was, in our opinion, not well thought out,” Heartwell said. “So what the DDA did this morning was to say, timeout, let’s take a look at this, let’s go back and talk to MDOT, let’s see if we can design a street that we’ll be proud of in 10 years, instead of one where we’ll look back 10 years from now and say what were those guys thinking?”

Of the $1.8 million, nearly $470,000 was from a federal grant share given by MDOT. DGR Inc. was contributing another $675,000. The problem is that if the federal money is not used, it will be taken back by MDOT and distributed elsewhere.

“To a citizen who says, ‘Take the money, Heartwell. Are you crazy? Take the money,’ that’s a good argument. We want to get MDOT’s money, but we want to be sure that the money we take is going to the right thing,” Heartwell said. “And right now I’m not convinced and I suspect that most members of the DDA are not convinced that this would be an appropriate use of those MDOT dollars. We want a street that works for us, we don’t want a street that works for MDOT.”

Heartwell said the vision of the group is for roads that not only get cars rapidly and safely from point A to point B, but also have proper storm water management, porous asphalt parking lanes, bump outs to capture rain and treat it on site instead of forcing it through the city’s already over-burdened storm drain system, along with bike lanes with adequate protection for bicyclists.

President and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Kristopher Larson sent the following email to 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday:

“Much has changed in terms of the public’s understanding of and expectations for streets in the last few years.  Across the country, complete streets are becoming the norm, while locally – we have been slower to adapt to streets that better balance the different modes that people use.  The motion this morning was a reflection of the distance our leaders have traveled to endear a vision of streets that accommodate a greater array of citizen choices.  The relatively easy passage of the Vital Streets ballot question is a good reflection that people were driven to the polls under the promise of sustainable, balanced streets that support different modes.”

Heartwell says his hope is that in 30 days, when the committee meets again on March 11, city engineers will have worked with MDOT on a proposal for the stretch of road that is in line with the city’s vision.

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