Ishpeming council chooses roundabout

ISHPEMING – The Ishpeming City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to build a roundabout as the safest option for connecting traffic from the city’s Second and Third streets.

The council came to the decision, which has been roughly four months in the making, in order for Hancock-based OHM Advisors, the city’s engineering firm for the project, to apply for some additional grants by their July deadline, with the hope that getting those grants would help provide supplemental funding for the connector.

Having applied for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Small Urban Program grant on behalf of the city at the beginning of April, OHM will now submit applications for the Federal Local Safety Program, which would assist with construction costs, and the Transportation Alternative Program, which would be used to finance the sidewalks, handicap accessibility and landscaping aspects of the connector project. All three grants use federal funds disbursed and administered through MDOT and would require a 20 percent local match.

At the council’s February meeting, Steve Wright, a project engineer at OHM, presented two preliminary designs for a connector that would link Second and Third north of Bessemer Street and just south of the railroad overpass. At Wednesday’s meeting Wright briefly reviewed those options with the council. The council ultimately rejected the first, an S-curve, because while it would be the cheaper option by about $40,000, it would do little to slow traffic or make that area safer for vehicles and pedestrians. Additionally, the more expensive price tag of the roundabout is offset by the fact that the city only has to purchase the northernmost parcel on that block and will also make the city more competitive with those grants that are focused on reducing accidents and increasing safety.

“There are many studies that show, because of fewer conflict points and reduced speed, that something along these lines is safer than an S-curve,” Wright said.

The city is still in the process of acquiring the parcel needed to build the roundabout, which is owned by LifePoint Hospitals. City Manager Mark Slown said that LifePoint rejected the first appraisal, paid for by the city, because there was a discrepancy between the appraised value of approximately $37,000 and the property’s taxable value.

“I did double-check with them to confirm that they are willing to sell,” Slown said. “It’s really just a matter of what their corporate office feels is a fair price. And regardless of which option we choose, we would have to acquire the property, so we’re kind of in a bind on that one.”

LifePoint will pay for a second appraisal, and once a fair price has been agreed upon, Slown said the property will be purchased using monies from the public improvement fund.

Mayor Mike Tall said that while he knows roundabouts are not especially popular with residents, it’s really the best option for directing traffic and making the city safer. Slown added that studies have shown that people warm to the design once it’s in place.

“People have said they’re not happy about the idea, but after they’re constructed those fears go away,” he said.