ST. JOSEPH — Work that will make Napier Avenue, from the St. Joseph River to Colfax Avenue, into a three-lane roadway including a turn lane, should begin in a couple of weeks, Berrien County Road Department Director Jason Latham told the Board of Commissioners on Thursday.
Latham has explained the switch from the current four-lane configuration to three lanes and a turn lane should reduce the number of accidents.
A traffic study showed there should be 20 fewer accidents per year in the zone, an 80 percent reduction, Latham told commissioners.
Engineers anticipate only a 10-second delay in the zone for vehicles during the busiest times, which occur for around a half hour in the morning and afternoon, he said.
Many of the accidents were rear-end crashes. Those often occur on four-lane roads when drivers stop to make a left-hand turn and are struck from behind or side-swiped, Latham said.
The configuration includes a four-foot paved shoulder. While this is not designated as a bike lane, it should make the road safer for cyclists and vehicles that need to pull over, such as mail carriers, Latham said.
There will be no road closures during the construction, which should take about three weeks.
The only thing holding up the repaving and restriping is that the union workers with the company contracted to do the project are on strike, he explained. Since this is funded with federal money, the contract is through the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Making the asphalt mix is "complicated," Latham said, so "we want the best people."
Next year the paving and restriping will take place on Napier from Colfax to Union Avenue, and the following year will be continued to U.S. 31.
Latham had said previously his department will monitor the traffic and can change it back to four lanes if it doesn't work as planned.
Meanwhile, work continues on Red Arrow Highway, south of Bridgman, which will remain a four-lane road for the present, Latham said.
Latham had discussed a three-lane configuration for Red Arrow Highway, but decided not to take it on at this point.
The first phase of rebuilding the road, covering 2.3 miles, has been completed, and the second phase over the next 1.2 miles should start in about two weeks.
Work to improve the safety of the intersection of Red Arrow Highway and Union Pier Road is slated for 2020. The next phase of Red Arrow Highway construction is expected for 2021, but the project size the design has not yet been decided.
Latham reported that he is making state funding, usually allocated for primary roads, to townships for repairing their local roads, and requiring matching funds. He is divvying up the $1.5 million according to population and road miles in a township. He expects to meet with township officials in November to plan next year's projects.
The department's crews are staying busy, Latham told the Administration Committee, with 2,260 requests for service over nine months. Of those, work on 75 of those remains in progress, with the remaining resolved. Potholes are the biggest request, Latham said.
The department continues to stay in touch with the public through social media, with its Facebook membership up 22 percent, at almost 10,000 followers, and a 191 percent increase in Twitter followers.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak