State, local officials support effort

MARQUETTE – As local officials praised the cooperation behind the production of a document highlighting short- and long-term plans for regional transportation, state government officials said some funding opportunities could be on the horizon.

The transportation needs “white paper,” dated June 21, details $19.6 million in funding necessary for construction, planning and permitting efforts related to road improvements.

The paper – produced by the Marquette County Road Commission – was transmitted to Michigan Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette.

Casperson spokesman Marty Fittante said there is “one certain path” that Casperson and Kivela can use to seek funding, as well as “two other theoretical possibilities.”

“There is – right now, through last year’s budget – transportation moneys that have been appropriated for special projects that will be let Oct. 1 of this year,” he said.

A less certain funding source could include money drawn from a pos sible statewide increase in transportation funding, which has been under discussion in Lansing for months, according to Fittante.

The other potential funding source would stem from what Fittante called a “return on investment to Michigan” from a health care tax. He said that return could potentially result in additional transportation funds being let on Feb. 1.

Fittante said Casperson has not yet entered into serious discussions about funding for the projects listed in the white paper.

“I think the first step was that the municipalities come together as they have,” he said. “And so now I think it’s turning their attention to trying to decide what the viability may be.”

Fittante said he was happy to see local units – representatives from the city of Marquette, Marquette County, Marquette Township, Negaunee Township, the Marquette County Road Commission and Northern Michigan University sat in on meetings – come together.

“We’re grateful – because we know it’s a contentious issue – that the municipalities were able to come together and find a consensus as to how they can best manage the situation,” Fittante said. “We want to, to the extent that we can, support that. That’s what we intend to do at this point.”

Municipal representatives shared that sentiment.

“The white paper is important,” Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda said. “Because it is a commitment by all parties to find a mutually agreed-upon long-term solution.”

County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said he was pleased to see local government bodies working together, especially as it involves an attempt to resurrect the plans for Marquette County Road 595.

The white paper calls for the plans for 595 to be submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers for possible permitting. In the document, the road commission estimates the cost of permitting at $500,000.

Corkin said the option makes sense for all parties at this juncture.

He said the proposed 21-mile road would provide a basic transportation route for a large part of the county and would serve as a truck route for mining interests, as well as logging operations and sand and gravel pits.

Additionally, most of the environmental studies have been completed – much of it paid for by mining company Rio Tinto – and can be repurposed before they are out-of-date.

“The timing would be good as far as the information, if the funding is available to do the process,” Corkin said. “The road commission said that was their recommendation, that we … pursue that as part of this package.”

CR 595 would direct traffic from County Road AAA directly to U.S. 41, bypassing streets in the city and Marquette Township. For that reason, NMU spokeswoman Cindy Paavola said the university strongly supports the construction of 595.

“As a university, we support that and we support the ongoing conversations – and we’ve been at the table for the ongoing conversations – to try to address everybody’s concerns in a way that still addresses our primary concerns, which are student safety and quality of life for our on-campus students,” she said.

The white paper spells out, in broad terms, $7.8 million worth of work to be done along Wright Street and Sugarloaf Avenue within the city limits.

Paavola said the university supports long-term solutions to remove truck traffic from roads adjacent to campus, but said NMU will not “support anything that increases traffic on campus.”

“We have been a part of the long process of discussions,” she said. “We’re going to continue to be part of that discussion.”

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is