Lobbying for roads

MARQUETTE – Marquette County Road Commission Engineer-Manager James Iwanicki recently produced a transportation needs white paper on behalf of four local governmental units seeking $19.6 million in special funding from state lawmakers for road improvements.

A white paper is a term for a report intended to aid in decision making.

From resurrecting the defunct Marquette County Road 595 project to improving Marquette streets for trucking and widening the scope of a city traffic study, the four-phased needs plan was compiled in Iwanicki’s report on behalf of Marquette County, the Marquette County Road Commission, the city of Marquette and Marquette Township.

“We tried to come up with a plan to deal with everybody’s concerns in the area on trucking,” Iwanicki said.

Those governmental units have been meeting – along with representatives from Negaunee Township and Northern Michigan University – since earlier this year after the proposed County Road 595 project failed to gain necessary federal approval in January.

The $82 million County Road 595 project would have built a 21-mile north-south road from County Road AAA to U.S. 41, providing a more direct route to haul nickel and copper from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill. In addition, the road was to provide safety, recreational and economic development benefits and opportunities for county residents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to remove objections to the project – largely based on wetlands related issues – prevented the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality from issuing a permit that had the required federal backing.

Without the EPA approval, for then Rio Tinto – the Eagle Mine owner at the time – decided to route its mine traffic on U.S. 41, M-95, county roads and streets through the city of Marquette, agreeing to paying for improvements to several of those roadways.

The increase in truck traffic through Marquette and Marquette Township has caused concern among government officials who are seeking long-range solutions to the problem, beyond the expected eight-year life-span of the Eagle Mine.

“These Marquette area governmental entities have come together to identify traffic safety issues and to mitigate those issues to increase public safety for our businesses and citizens,” the report states. “By addressing the public safety needs on our public roads our community will continue to grow and prosper.”

The report said vehicular, commercial truck and non-motorized traffic has increased over the past decade and has changed traffic patterns in the city of Marquette and the Marquette Township.

“These traffic issues have local governmental officials concerned about the traveling public’s safety,” the report states. “In addition, new commercial, institutional and recreational developments in Marquette County will add additional stress to this already inadequate transportation system.”

In response, the governmental units crafted the four-phased needs special funding request for state lawmakers. Legislators could use the document should money become available for roads.

The first phase would cost an estimated $500,000 to seek federal permitting approval for County Road 595 through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would be the next step after EPA failure to support the project. The corps previously expressed concerns about the project to the EPA. The road commission later made revisions.

If the road permits are approved, there is no entity currently agreeing to fund construction. Rio Tinto – which sold the Eagle Mine and Humboldt processing plant to Lundin Mining Corp.- withdrew its pledge to pay for the road after approvals were not granted, instead deciding to spend its money on upgrading existing roads to meet the expected mine production start scheduled for late 2014.

Phase two of the needs request would fund nine different projects “to improve safety” along Marquette County roads 550, HR and 492 and Wright Street and Sugarloaf Avenue – the route mine trucking will use. The $10.1 million estimated cost would fund planning, design, construction and engineering.

Iwanicki said the third phase would provide $500,000 for a Marquette area traffic study, widening the scope of a study by the city of Marquette. The new study would help the community identify existing traffic patterns and develop recommendations and options to address identified problems and public safety issues, the report said.

The study would also recommend where commercial corridors could be established. The report said the recommendations would include the use of existing routes and identify proposed routes that should be constructed to address public safety concerns.

“The assumption is they’re going to say a bypass around the city of Marquette would be a good idea,” Iwanicki said. “But we’ll wait for the study to determine that.”

The final phase is estimated to cost $8.5 million and would finance implementation of the recommendations from the traffic study.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net