Money first, safety second

By Andy Balaskovitz
Sam Inglot/City Pulse

The Waverly Road Regional Network Connection does not get funding support from Lansing Township and Ingham County; city will press on with alternative plan.

Lansing officials are “disheartened,” “frustrated” and “disappointed” with Lansing Township and Ingham County for failing to support what they call an exemplary regional transportation project that would resolve serious safety concerns.

It’s been over two years since Mayor Virg Bernero started publicly advocating a pathway along Waverly Road in Lansing Township where there is little more than a goat path along a steep embankment. This is the “sidewalk to nowhere” project — so-called by state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge — that Bernero’s critics have argued is, while a worthy public safety solution, too expensive.

“The crux of this issue is about saving lives,” Bernero said Monday. “It’s not about politics for me. … I’m disappointed we have not gotten a solution.” He called it a “moral hazard.”

In a March letter to the city offering grant funding for the project, the Michigan Department of Transportation noted the “safety deficiency” in the area. In considering the pathway on Waverly north to Old Lansing Road and east to Grand River Park, it says: “The safety deficiency that is present in this area creates a high potential for pedestrians to sustain serious injuries by vehicles, due to the lack of an adequate pedestrian facility.”

Within the Waverly project area between 2004 and 2011, there were eight auto accidents involving pedestrians or bicyclists, according to MDOT. Five resulted in severe injuries, the letter says. “We see the proposed project as a comprehensive solution to alleviate/greatly diminish the potential for these types of crashes.”

“Safe pedestrian passage is not a luxury — that’s another thing I resent,” Bernero said. “In today’s day in age, the enlightened view is that complete streets are the way to go.”

The city secured conditional grant funding for a 10-foot-wide pathway that would have gone north of the Waverly Road bridge to Old Lansing Road and west to Grand River Park. The city set an April 9 deadline for securing a local match for the grants from the township and county.

At its April 9 meeting, township trustees approved a resolution, 4-3, pledging $10,000 to help support the project. However, the city’s latest estimates showed it would cost the township and county $500,000 for its share, which would have been split. The township reasoned in its resolution that because the size of its budget is 2 percent of the county’s, it would contribute 2 percent of the match, or $10,000. The county Board of Commissioners has not taken up the issue.

“It’s well short of what they knew would be the required match,” Lansing Chief Financial Officer Chad Gamble said.

Township Supervisor Kathleen Rodgers, Treasurer Leo Rodgers, Clerk Susan Aten and Trustee John Broughton voted in favor of the $10,000 commitment.

“If we supported something like that, it would have to be proportionate to the overall budget,” Leo Rodgers said.

He said the safety issues there are a “legitimate concern. One of the things that I’m still unsettled on is: How do you balance safety concerns with the road and putting a sidewalk in and encroaching on people’s properties?” he asked, referring to the Waverly Hills neighborhood north of the river.

The project that the city has desired all along is shelved for the time being. “Not dead, but in a coma,” as Gamble put it. Instead, the city will move forward with a plan to narrow Mt. Hope Avenue from Pleasant Grove Road to Moores River Drive to build a 10-foot-wide pathway. That project will connect a planned South Lansing Pathway with a planned pathway in Delhi Township, the River Trail and, in the future, Michigan State University. The city was forced to amend its grant application for MDOT, removing the portions involving the township and county. The City Council unanimously approved that grant acceptance, worth up to $720,000 with an anticipated city match of $150,000, at its meeting Monday night. Instead of an “unbelievable” project, the city will do a “very good” project, Gamble said, which is expected to start this summer.