March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The proposed Waverly Road sidewalk moves forward

Thursday, April 28 — The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission voted Wednesday night to move forward with the Waverly Road sidewalk project proposed by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and derided by critics as a “sidewalk to nowhere.”

In a 13-4 vote, the proposed project now moves to the commission’s “illustrative list,” which means grant funding to help pay for the project can be pursued. After the illustrative list, the project must make the commission’s Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, before any construction begins.

The proposed project runs from the west entrance of Grand River Park along Lansing Road and continues southwest along Old Lansing Road past the YMCA to Waverly Road, south on Waverly to Moores River Drive and back northeast to Mt. Hope Avenue. A majority of the roughly 1.5-mile project is in Lansing Township.

“Nothing could be more regionally significant (than this project),” said Brian McGrain, an Ingham County commissioner.

One of the four no-votes was Lansing City Councilwoman Carol Wood. She took issue with what she called “mixed feelings” between Lansing and Lansing Township on the project. She said it was “her understanding” that the project could go on the illustrative list in two months.

“Let’s come back in two months and try to work out issues (between the city and the township),” she said.

The other no votes were cast by Ingham County Commissioner Dianne Holman, Delta Township Treasurer Howard Pizzo and Eaton County Commissioner Jim Osieczonek.

Eaton County Road Commissioner Darrell Tennis and Lansing School Board President Shirley Rodgers were absent.

Holman was reluctant about moving forward because “once they’re on that (illustrative) list, they do have a different intensity to them. They get legs at that point.”

McGrain responded: “This project already has legs on its own. It’s people walking down Waverly.”

Supporters of the motion said getting on the illustrative list means grant applications can start getting filled out.

Paul Hamilton, transportation planner with the commission, said it “can be a short period of time or a long period of time” before construction begins.

“The benefit (of getting on the illustrative list) is that it does show MDOT (the state Department of Transportation) that there is some regional support for this. It says: ‘Yes, we support getting funding for this and sending that message to funding agencies,’” he said.

The commission also approved an amendment to the resolution, which says the project must come before the full commission again before it’s placed on the TIP.

Leading up to the commission’s vote, the project had mixed reviews from two committees and Tri-County Regional Planning Commission staff. The Capital Area Region Transportation Study committee — which is made up of planners and engineers — recommended moving the project to the illustrative list. The Transportation Review committee voted down a motion 4-4 on April 13 to move it on the list.

Ralph Monsma, a Capital Area Transportation Authority representative on the commission, said it was “relatively unusual” to have the two committees disagree on a recommendation. However, before the vote, two commission members — including Lansing City Councilwoman Jessica Yorko — said they were absent for the transportation committee’s vote last week but would have voted for the project.

Hamilton said Wednesday night that because of the disagreement between the two committees, he discussed the project with Tri-County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Susan Pigg. The “staff recommendation” was to add it to the list, Hamilton said.

“I advise you to look at the regional aspects (of this project),” he told the commission. “When I look at the goals and objectives of this project I see a lot of regionally significant aspects.”

Before the vote, seven people spoke on the project during public comment. Five spoke in support of the project and two were against. While supporters said this is an important public safety project and that getting on the illustrative list only means funding is being explored, opponents — both from the commission and the public — said so far the process has been a poor display of regionalism.

One of the opponents was Bill Ballenger, editor of the political newsletter Inside Michigan Politics and president of the Waverly Hills Neighborhood Association. Waverly Hills is a subdivision immediately east of the proposed project. Ballard said “virtually everybody” in the neighborhood opposes the project.

“It’s a huge waste of public money,” he said.

The other opponent was Tom Masseau, a Lansing Township trustee who feels the city is forcing the township into signing a project agreement. Masseau took issue with a letter Lansing Public Service Director Chad Gamble sent to township Supervisor John Daher in March that said the project would be “dead” if the township didn’t sign an “interlocal agreement” soon. The city maintains that it was trying to move the process along.

“The township (board) never discussed this as a whole,” Masseau said. “I resent the fact we are forced as a municipality to abide by these rules.”

Those in support included two men from the Mid-Michigan Active Transportation Coalition, Gamble, Lansing City Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar and Lansing City Council candidate Rory Neuner, who is vying for an at-large seat on the council this year and is also a state manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

“Opportunity. That’s what this project provides,” Gamble said. “It’s the opportunity to allow us to get funding that will go to other communities. That’s all we’re really asking for today.”

Neuner, a Moores Park Neighborhood resident, said any quarrels between municipalities ought to be worked out, because the real issue behind this project is the public safety concern of a 1-foot-wide “goat trail” that exists along Waverly Road.

“Take seriously the safety issues along that corridor,” she told the commission. “The goat trail there is clearly used. Work out your differences and let’s give this project a chance.”