Plans for the US-131 bypass of Constantine were in the spotlight Monday evening (January 28th) during a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) open house at Constantine High School.
The two-hour event – from 5 to 7 p.m. – offered the chance to learn more about the project and pose questions to MDOT representatives. It came one week before the February 4th starting date for construction of a two-lane bypass that includes a new 870-foot bridge over the St. Joseph River.
State Representative Matt Lori, who is a Constantine resident, was among those on hand for the open house. In commenting on the project during an interview with the River Country Journal, Lori said he’s been in town for 38 years and “can’t believe it’s actually, finally, going to happen.” He said that not everyone may be happy with the final outcome and the route that’s been mapped out, but added, “I think, in the long run, it will be good for Constantine and good for St. Joseph County. That’s what I’m banking on.” Regarding concerns expressed by some that the bypass will have a negative impact on downtown Constantine, Lori said the community is “dedicated to re-inventing itself as far as the downtown” and he thinks that “if we get some of those things going” – things like a proposed micro-brewery – “people will actually take time to get off and see what Constantine is all about.” (Matt Lori audio clip – :20)
Chuck Frisbie, superintendent of the Constantine Public Schools, attended the open house and said, “For us, our big issue is transportation and how it’s going to impact our bus routes, and how we’re going to get the buses across the bypass.” (Chuck Frisbie audio clip – :20)
Although not affected directly by the bypass, Mottville Township Supervisor Brenda Hagen said she “wanted to see what they’ve finally come up with.” She noted that she served for many years on the committee that worked to foster US-131 improvements. She said, “We had envisioned a much larger project starting north of Schoolcraft and going to the Indiana state line, but I understand budget cuts have made this necessary. They’ll at least get them off that old bridge in Constantine.” Hagen said she doesn’t care for the cul-de-sacs on several roads in conjunction with the project and expressed concern about traffic on Riverside Drive, but, overall, it’s “a good thing” and “long overdue.” (Brenda Hagen audio clip – :23)
Jon Sytsma, cost & scheduling engineer with MDOT’s Transportation Service Center and design project manager for the bypass, was one of three MDOT representatives who conducted the open house. During an interview, he described the new bridge over the St. Joseph River as the “critical path” for the project. (Jon Sytsma audio clip – :22)
Sytsma said the construction schedule for the project is “aggressive,” but said MDOT anticipates getting done in November.
Regarding the open house, Sytsma said attendees had “a lot of questions” such as “when will my road be closed, how long will the project take” and “are they going to cut any trees by my house and, if so, can I have access to the wood?” (Jon Sytsma audio clip – :24)
When asked about the potential for development along the bypass route, Sytsma said, “What we purchased here is limited access right-of-way and we’re going to operate this as a controlled access right-of-way route so we’ll have at-grade intersections so it won’t function as a freeway. However, we will not permit private drives or businesses to allow entrances or exits to this roadway.”
Sytsma also noted the benefit that areas to the north will gain from the project: “Obviously, the intention here is to get trucks from the state line up further north into Michigan with minimal impact on the community of Constantine so it’s designed with a mindset of how efficiently you can get trucks around Constantine and north of here.”
When asked how he feels about the design for the bypass, Sytsma said, “We’re very confident in what we have here. . . . I’m very confident that it’s going to function well.”
Constantine Village President Pat Weiss and Village Manager Mark Honeysett attended the open house and reflected on the upcoming project during a River Country Journal interview. Regarding the open house, Weiss said, “I feel very positive about this meeting. . . . I’m happy to see that MDOT has planned this.” And, in commenting about concerns some have voiced about the impact on the downtown from the diversion of truck traffic via the bypass, she said, “I think that a lot of the merchants are looking forward to NOT having truck traffic because the truck traffic wasn’t stopping anyhow so I think it’s a good thing.” (Pat Weiss audio clip – :10) Honeysett agreed with Weiss regarding the impact of the bypass on downtown Constantine and said, “I’m thrilled. I think that this is exactly what we need for downtown.” (Mark Honeysett audio clip – :34).
The bypass around the Village of Constantine will span nearly five miles from Garber Road to Dickinson Road.
Contractors DJ McQuestion & Sons and Rieth-Riley will lead the $18 million project.
For additional insights regarding the US-131 bypass project and Monday’s MDOT open house, click on the links below to hear the full interviews with the persons cited in this story.
- State Representative Matt Lori (2:20 – 2.15 MB)
- Superintendent Chuck Frisbie of the Constantine Public Schools (1:27 – 1.32 MB)
- Mottville Township Supervisor Brenda Hagen (2:12 – 2.01 MB)
- Cost & Scheduling Engineer Jon Sytsma of the Michigan Department of Transportation (5:00 – 4.59 MB)
- Constantine Village President Pat Weiss and Village Manager Mark Honeysett (2:57 – 2.70 MB).
For additional information about the bypass project – including a map showing the route – click on the following link: US-131 Constantine Bypass in St. Joseph County.