SOUTH HAVEN — Two years ago, South Haven city officials made plans to create a lane diet on the Interstate 196 Business Loop along Broadway and LaGrange avenues.
But whether the road diet happens remains to be seen.
“We may may not get lane diet done,” City Manager Brian Dissette informed city council members earlier this week. “It’s not our road.”
Michigan Department of Transportation owns and maintains the I-196 Business Loop that winds through South Haven. Any plans to make changes along the roadway must be OK’d by the state agency.
“I never envisioned we would be this far in and say, ‘I can’t say with certainly we’ll get the lane diet approved,’” Dissette told council members. “My fear is we’ll go another year and not be any closer.”
The city has developed a plan to reduce the number of lanes on Broadway and LaGrange from five to three and install bicycle lanes and other markings to help make the roadway safer for bicyclists and for pedestrians to cross, especially South Haven High School students and other city residents who live east of the business loop.
“This project is all about trying to ensure young people have the safest route possible,” Dissette said. “Having three lanes of traffic is safer than having five lanes.”
MDOT is not adverse to the idea of a road diet along sections of the Business Loop in South Haven. In fact, in 2008, MDOT reduced the lanes on part of the M-43 corridor from four to three and created bike paths along either side.
“MDOT has done many lane diets,” said Department of Public Works Director Bill Hunter. “It’s this particular one (the proposal for Broadway and LaGrange) they would like changes to.”
State traffic officials don’t favor the type of lighted pedestrian signs the city is proposing. The signs work in the following way. When someone wants to use a crosswalk to get across the road, they can push a button that would illuminate the sign. MDOT, however, favors a sign with a flasher that goes off all the time. The city thinks the signs it is proposing would be more noticeable to motorists. “People get used to that (a sign with an overhead light that continually flashes).”
MDOT also has concerns about the use of dedicated right lanes on portions of the road diet near several intersections.
“We’re using dedicated turn-off lanes at intersections not only for pedestrian safety, but to accommodate as much traffic as we can so we can have a balance,” Hunter said, adding that a number of businesses along the proposed road diet favor the dedicated right lanes.
Although council members voted to approve a maintenance agreement with MDOT that stipulates the city will pay for all costs associated with the road plan neither Dissette nor Hunter are confident the city’s design for the street will be OK’d. MDOT will still have to approve the design.
“One of my fears is MDOT coming back and saying this is not the project we want you to do,” Hunter said. If that were to be the case, Hunter said it would only be fair to run MDOT’s changes by home and business owners along the route to gather their opinions.
Which led Dissette to ask council members whether they would favor installation of a traffic signal at the busy intersection of Broadway and Superior streets. One used to be there, but MDOT took it down after Central School closed, citing less of a need for it.
But local residents have complained ever since that it is nearly impossible to cross the road during summer months.
“We can get a traffic signal permitted more quickly,” Dissette said, noting the cost for a traffic signal would be $200,000, roughly the same as for converting the business loop from five to three lanes and creating bike lanes and other safety measures for pedestrians.
But council members weren’t receptive to this option.
“I think the lane diet is a much better option,” Council member George Sleeper said. “I’m not going to forego that option because it might be a little easier to get a traffic signal.”
But Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gruber also believes a traffic signal at Superior and Broadway would be nice.
“That’s been tough trying to cross the road, there,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing to happen but not for the greater good of the road, overall. The only safe place on that road is Phoenix Street (where a traffic signal exists) and next to Woodhams, (where the other one is located). The rest you’re taking your life in your hands. I think we should continue on.”
“We should stick to or guns ... hold the cards tight,” Mayor Scott Smith said. “If we get a flat-out no, (from MDOT) I’ll be the first to agree to alternatives.”