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January 12, 2011

MDOT hosts open house for US-131 bypass project in Constantine

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Written by: Bruce Snook
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These displays were part of an open house Tuesday evening about the proposed US-131 bypass of Constantine. The event was held in the Constantine Middle School cafeteria.

Despite snowy weather and slippery travel conditions, the cafeteria at Constantine Middle School was a busy place Tuesday evening (January 11th) as the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) hosted an open house regarding the US-131 bypass project in Constantine.

The purpose of the open house was to receive public input on aesthetics for the proposed construction of a new, two-lane US-131 bypass around Constantine in St. Joseph County.  MDOT representatives were on hand to answer questions and address concerns during the two-hour event from 6 to 8 p.m.

Former Village Trustee Leonard Moyer (left) and state Senator Bruce Caswell look at one of the maps on display during the open house.

MDOT is currently designing a new, two-lane bypass of Constantine from Dickenson Road to Garber road, as well as an 870-foot bridge over the St. Joseph River west of the village.  The project will create new intersections with Stears Road, Riverside Drive, North River Road, Millers Mill Road, Youngs Prairie Road, and Zerbe Road.  It  will also turn existing through-roads into cul-de-sacs:  Stears Road, west of the bypass; and Birch Street and Millers Mill road, east of the bypass.

'Concept 1' for the new bridge includes a 'corn stalk formliner,' a design that reflects Constantine's status as the "Seed Corn Capital of the World." (Click on photo to enlarge)

During an interview with the River Country Journal as the open house was getting underway, Jason Latham, Planning Manager with MDOT’s Southwest Region office in Kalamazoo, said, “Right now we’re in design.  We are actually purchasing right-of-way as well, and we have a 2012 construction date set so in 2012 we’ll begin construction of the bypass.  What we hope is that the $25 million project gets built in its entirety, but – depending on our funding, if we’re having the same revenue shortfalls that we had last year, this year and next year – that maybe we’ll only be able to build a piece of it.”  (Jason_Latham_audio clip – :26)

The open house included maps showing the route of the bypass west of Constantine and displays showing three design concepts for the new bridge, including one utilizing a “corn stalk formliner,” reflecting Constantine’s status as the “Seed Corn Capital of the World.”  Latham indicated that input regarding the options will be used to further refine the design.  He said, “It’s kind of going to be like the one with the most popular feedback, that’s going to be the option we’re going to go with.”

To hear the entire interview with Jason Latham – conducted by Bruce Snook of the River Country Journal – click on the following link:  Jason_Latham_interview (4:34 – 4.18 MB).

One Comment

  1. unbefrickenlievable

    The bridge continues to be a deflection point of focus. Yes its the expensive facet of the project –but alot of economic impact has to be evaluated to the area beyond the one time project cost, That attention to the the real issues were alot more meaningful than the question of the pretty bridge vs. not so pretty bridge.

    There were provisions that are supposed to be in the design that were negotiated between the village and MDOT (I’m working from memory, but the provisions go something like this…if I got this wrong, I’m confident my neighbor, also who is on the Council) who penned these provisions will throw snowballs at me when I come home this weekend.

    1) Significant reduction in the cul de sac’d intersections (there were specific intersections cited
    2) Current bridge over the St. Joe thru the village will be owned by the State and the route thru the village designated at BR 131.
    3) Re-instate the intersection at the southernmost part of old US 131 and the new bypass (down by Monsanto)
    4) Acquire enough land to be able to make this bypass in to a 4 lane bypass without having to acquire additional land later (making it prohibitive to make a 4 lane bypass)
    5) Safe Intersections (particularly at the intersection of Riverside Drive next to the high school where tere will be consideable crossings for school and school related sporting events (you have alot of commercial trucks now going at highway speeds–thus re-creating the M60/US 131 intersection accident magnet at TR).
    6) Minimize the impacts to farm land in the surrounding.

    The provisions above need to be in place in the design–all of these are important. I know because I was the one that volunteered to negotiate these points on behalf of the village with MDOTs Jason Lathom severeral years ago and presented them to the village to approve.

    The village voted NO when the concept went from a 4 lane bypass to a 2 lane with alot of shortcomings. Those shortcomings had to be addressed per the provisions above.–only then did they vote yes. A 2 lane offers very little of the benefits of a bypass without all of the downsides. If there’s not a plan in place to have a 4 lane put in place in within the next 10 years this project needs to be killed. If not, it will look like the old bypass around TR built decades ago now filled with stoplights adjacent to the big box stores. Without a FUNDED plan in place within a decade to build all 4 lanes, I fear we will have bypassed our village with all the passers by to our service businesses for nothing….

    To suggest it won’t go thru because of a wetlands–don’t be fooled. They didn’t spend millions upon millions for a studies, and evironmental impact to say ‘never mind’. You don’t to to the trouble of going to the store to buy the condoms, put one on and then say…..naaah. That’s in part why millions were spent over the past years to put this bridge where it is–there’s supposed to be an evironmental impact study done and approved before this design phase even began. It would have been more advantageous to have this bypass on the West side of town closer to the industrial base….but that would require at least 3 bridges and alot more wetlands…that’s why it is where it is in an otherwise less than advantageous location.

    In spite of all the propaganda to the contrary, I contend this project has never been about our village…The two previous mayors that championed this as being a must have for the village both had their front doors within a few hundred feet of the current highway.

    Safety concerns for kids crossing the street going to school may end up being traded for a bigger safety concern at the Riverside drive intersection by our highschool now a crossing with trucks going at full highway speeds with young drivers, buses going to from school not to mention all the sporting events. Several of us sat down with Jason Lathom to emphasize this concern on doing this intersection right!!! We don’t need another intersection like M60/131 on the South side of TR (that just recently had yet another accident)

    I always contended this was never about our village. Studies were done and presented to our Council two decades ago that said don’t build a bypass–it will ruin your downtown ( I have the video tape of that presentation). This bypass is about the needs and the influence of larger towns to the North of us that need fewer stoplights to get trucks to the toll road. However, if you kill the project altogether..it will get built perhaps out of our county (perhaps CR 17 exchange over by Union) and take that major transporation artery away from our county and that too will have an even bigger impact on our downtown and our prospects for jobs in the future. Damned if you do or don’t…..we did the best we could to minimize the impacts based on the facts at hand and our vision of what lay ahead. MDOT hopefully abided by that agreement in its design….it had nothing to do with the pretty new bridge.

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