Here’s a news item from the Capitol news service MIRS last week:
Members of the Tri-County Bicycle Association’s advocacy committee asked the Michigan State Transportation Commission to stop using J-turns, commonly referred to as Michigan lefts, on the stretch of U.S. Route 127 north of St. Johns by Uncle John’s Cider Mill.
The group claimed the turns are dangerous for anyone on a bicycle because, in the face of traffic moving at 65 miles per hour, they can’t pedal fast enough to safely cross the highway.
I had that same perplexed look on my face. Bike across U.S. 127? Are you crazy?
As a League of Michigan Bicyclists member who’s put in a few miles on our mid-Michigan roads, I’d only cross U.S. 127 under two circumstances: over a bridge and under a bridge.
Yet, sadly, neither option appears imminent in that 16-mile stretch between Ithaca and St. Johns. The Michigan Department of Transportation has “slow-walked” this project to the point where it’s basically “no-walk.”
Allegedly, land is being purchased occasionally, but it’s not a priority, and it never has been. All the while, that road gets a little more dangerous.
Turning out of Uncle John’s Cider Mill on a fall weekend day between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. is a white-knuckle test of bravery. Turning right off a dirt road onto northbound U.S. 127 may have been the scariest thing I did in 2022.
It’s not just bicyclists or cider mill tourists, either. It’s the local farmers who are functionally blocked off from driving their farm equipment over this road.
It’s the local economic development folks, too. The Middle Michigan Development Corp. did a study five years ago that concluded the obvious.
The majority of U.S. 127 is a limited access, four-lane freeway, and it’s long past time that the final 16-mile stretch of this road is made one, too. Studies show higher rates of accidents here. The speed limit drops to 65 miles per hour, but the traffic keeps blowing through at 75 to 80.
The cops aren’t nabbing speeders here like they used to be, but law enforcement isn’t the answer.
U.S.127 needs to be a limited-access freeway before more people are killed and more economic development and tourism are chased away. It’s not safe. Everyone knows it.
But the big dollar signs and higher-than-usual difficulty in pulling this off have frozen the bureaucracy into paralysis. Still expensive. Still unfinished. Still startlingly unsafe.
There have been other headwinds, too.
The Granholm administration didn’t want to do it. It exchanged the philosophy of building new roads for improving existing roads for environmental reasons.
The Snyder administration had no money to spend on new roads. Its gas tax increase was a phased-in deal. There’s no way it could have pulled in more than $100 million for this project while doing several other projects. Folks like former Sen. Roger Kahn tried; he ran into a brick wall.
Now we’re onto Whitmer. U.S. 127 — with its traffic light over the railroad tracks — is still the fastest way to get Up North from Lansing and points south. And, yet, MDOT seems more interested in making smaller fixes than fixing the damn road.
The roads all over the state are so bad, it’s hard to justify backing up the truck and unloading a bunch of money onto one 16-mile project.
Buying up that remaining bit of right-of-way is expensive. There’s a railroad track that needs to be moved. There are some wetlands. There are some farmers who don’t want to sell. That’s eminent domain. That’s expensive.
Still expensive. Still unfinished. Still startingly unsafe.
But Biden’s infrastructure was made for something like this. It’s improving something that isn’t safe. It’s making our infrastructure better. It would improve tourism Up North. We wouldn’t have to risk our lives going to a cider mill.
And maybe we bikers could finally cross U.S. 127 safely.
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