MDOT plans corridor work

MARQUETTE – The Michigan Department of Transportation is crafting both long- and short-term plans to improve safety along U.S. 41.

MDOT officials, speaking to the Ishpeming City Council Wednesday night, announced plans to undertake a major traffic control overhaul along U.S. 41 in that city.

The project, slated for 2016, will include the creation of a highway roundabout at the Second Street intersection and will alter traffic flow at Third Street, as well.

Andy Sikkema, the manager of Ishpeming’s MDOT Transportation Service Center, said that after the project is completed, traffic will not be allowed to turn left from the highway onto Third Street, or left from Third Street onto the highway.

Sikkema said the project will be funded through money alloted by MDOT for safety improvements, rather than through the routine road construction fund.

Safety funds are allocated based on proposals made to address areas highlighted in statewide crash reports, which compare similar areas in Michigan.

“This is a location that shows up on high-crash reports, so we’re concentrating our efforts at this location, at Second and Third streets,” Sikkema said. “This is the project that we’re proposing to complete at this location to resolve both some of the operational problems – people trying to make left-hand turns – and the safety issue we see there with the number of crashes that result in injuries.”

In the last five years, Sikkema said, there have been about 70 crashes in that area that have resulted in 28 injuries and two deaths.

MDOT estimates project that the highway changes will result in a 35 percent decrease in overall crashes and a 75 percent decrease in resulting injuries.

“Roundabouts are designed so you have to travel at a very low speed,” Sikkema said. “You enter and drive through a roundabout at about 15 miles per hour.”

Additionally, he said, roundabouts reduce conflict points and any crashes wind up being glancing blows, rather than direct collisions.

“They typically result in less crashes and the crashes are far less severe,” he said.

The new roundabout, according to Sikkema, will be two lanes and similar to the one located in south Marquette.

Safety concerns are also leading MDOT to alter traffic-control signals in the city of Marquette. By the middle of next week, Sikkema said, new traffic signals will begin operating at the intersection of the highway and Washington Street.

For years, westbound traffic on Washington Street – which merges with westbound traffic on U.S. 41 – has been controlled by stop signs.

Sikkema said that setup caused a couple of minor problems. First, traffic would often back up along Washington Street during heavy traffic periods. Additionally, he said, minor rear-end crashes were common, as drivers merging onto the highway would stop suddenly when seeing approaching traffic.

“The change here is that as you approach there, there will be signal heads at that location that will be interlocked with the other signals that are in the same location,” Sikkema said.

Traffic from all directions will be faced with a three-light traffic-control signal, he said.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.