US 41/M-28 Marquette Township Reconstruction Hopes to Alleviate Safety Concerns
Safety First: Michigan DOT Adds Tunnel During US 41/M-28 Marquette Township Reconstruction for Safer Pedestrian and Snowmobile Crossing
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Marquette Township, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has undergone some changes yet retains its past dynamic as well. The U.S. 41/M-28 Marquette Township reconstruction and roundabouts project addresses both elements of the area and enhances the safety for all users.
Marquette Township is a largely rural area located near Lake Superior. The area is a popular tourist site for those who enjoy snowmobiling, hiking, and mountain biking. To meet the recreational demand, there are a number of trails in the project area.
In recent years, the township has experienced a retail boom. Big box retailers – including Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and Lowe’s – have become prevalent in the area. Smaller businesses and restaurants have also made their way into the area in greater numbers as of late.
Safety for snowmobilers, pedestrians and retail traffic is a concern. One trail crosses over U.S. 41, and this arrangement is no longer tenable. “The township wanted a connector for snowmobilers and non-motorized travelers to cross the road,” says Al Anderson, a Construction Engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Anderson handles construction in the area for MDOT, ensures funding is spent properly, reviews project schedules, and coordinates with the public and local government.
To meet the township’s desire, a 164-foot-long, 12 foot-tall, 14-foot-wide multi-use tunnel (wide enough to fit a snow mobile groomer through) is being constructed. It will also be open in the summer for people to walk and bike through. The tunnel will ensure the trail goers and drivers no longer face a choke point.
“The area has seen more and more severe crashes related to left turns,” says Anderson. With the pavement condition deteriorated, it was clear construction was going to be needed. The need for safety improvements was clear to all so it was included as part of the construction.
The four-lane roadway (two lanes in each direction), which has a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, handles lots of through traffic and includes a few side access points. It’s one of the busiest corridors in the Upper Peninsula, with an average daily traffic amount of 32,000 vehicles. Upon completion of construction, there will be two 12-foot-wide lanes in each direction plus 8-foot shoulders in a boulevard configuration separated by a 60-foot grass median.
Michigan Lefts and Roundabouts
MDOT did multiple things to address the safety issues. In order to reduce the number of left turns made across the highway, they created “Michigan Lefts” which provide indirect left turns. Previously, drivers would have to look at multiple lanes and access points to cross the highway. With the construction, they will only have to look left for traffic coming one way. The left turns are limited to a couple of key points. In addition to safety, this will ultimately speed up the left turn since drivers only have to enter one stream of traffic.
A second change that is expected to improve safety is adding the roundabouts. Two roundabouts are being constructed. They are approximately three-quarters of a mile apart and are separated by the road segment that is being reconstructed. The decision to use roundabouts was made after modeling indicated it would improve safety and operation.
“Roundabouts are proven to not delay traffic because there’s no need to stop at the signal,” says Anderson, “Cars simply have to yield to traffic in the roundabout.” They’re also proven to reduce overall delay, slow and calm traffic, and reduce severe crashes.
Deciding to use roundabouts was also influenced by past success. “We’ve had lots of success with other roundabout on the U.S. 41 corridor,” says Anderson.
One of the main challenges with the project included maintaining traffic, which was a necessity due to the side roads and businesses in the area. To meet this challenge, the project was broken down into four phases with many small sub-stages.
Keeping the project moving forward in the best fashion required lots of pre-planning and modeling of traffic patterns. MDOT hired a consultant, DLZ. They came up with a plan to ensure traffic flowed in each stage without excessive delays. “Everything was reviewed, including where to use temporary signals, roundabouts, Michigan lefts, etc.,” says Anderson.
Anderson noted organizing the construction stages was like putting a puzzle together. “The contractor, Herbert Construction, hired a consultant to create a 3-D surface model of the project to be built,” he says. “Constructing to this model and accurate surveying ensured it all fits together when done.”
Another challenge faced during construction was the relocation of a gravity sanitary sewer. It had to meet the grade the whole way with no low points and be relocated 25 feet underground in order to get under the tunnel. “The existing sewer was eight feet deep and had an 8-inch diameter. We had to relocate it for 1,200 feet,” says Anderson.
To do this, trench boxes were stacked on top of each other. The process was painstaking as it took three weeks to construct a 600-foot stretch. “To dig that deep and place the sewer accurately on grade while keeping traffic moving was tough,” says Anderson.
The budget for the project is $10.9 million. Of that budget, $8.9 million is for the road construction, while the remainder is for the multi-use tunnel. The township is chipping in 20 percent for the multi-use tunnel and the remainders of the funds are coming from the federal and state governments. In order to raise the funds, the township has sought private donations and created a GoFundMe website page. So far, the project is on budget, and Anderson credits the preplanning for this.
The project, which began in April 2019, is scheduled to be complete in June 2020. This includes suspending construction in the winter. The project is on schedule. “The contractor staffed accordingly allowing us to stay on schedule,” says Anderson. “We also use Critical Path Management (CPM) scheduling to track progress and have weekly meetings to strategize about where to work next so that we are proceeding in the most efficient manner.”
By the summer of 2020, commuters, pedestrians, bikers, and hikers will be able to traverse Marquette Township knowing the area is safer. Travel will also be more efficient allowing greater mobility for all. The U.S. 41/M-28 Marquette Township reconstruction and roundabouts project will allow the retail and rustic nature of the area to continue to coexist.