The cost of road construction | Features

How far would you drive for your favorite local business?
By Jillian Manning | July 30, 2022

Michigan is known for its four distinct seasons: fall, winter, again winter, and road construction. And while we put up with the construction season’s delays and detours for its main benefits — days of blue skies, green trails, and finally warm enough waters — those orange cones herald more than fresh asphalt for some local businesses. Road closures and detours can negatively impact the bottom line of NoMi businesses, especially those that rely on tourist traffic.

take a ride
The final clash of cones and commerce takes place on M-66. If you’ve driven the highway lately, you’ve seen “Road closed” or “Bridge Out” signs as you approach the section between Charlevoix and East Jordan. And if you took one of the two recommended detours, you got a 67-73 mile, albeit scenic, ride you might not have expected.

On July 11, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) launched a $1 million replacement project on the culvert that carries Monroe Creek (an offshoot of the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix) under M-66. The project is expected to last until September 2.

“During inspections, our maintenance staff discovered a separation in sections of the existing 72-inch steel pipe culvert at this location, which is causing under-pavement erosion and settlement issues, requiring replacement,” says James Lake, MDOT North Region. communication Manager. “We are replacing it with a 17-by-11-foot elliptical aluminum culvert, which is lighter to help avoid future settlements and will improve the flow of Monroe Creek.”

Although M-66 is only closed to through traffic between Lord and Lacroix Roads where the culvert is – approximately 1 mile – any traffic not heading to a destination along M-66 is rerouted along two long detours. MDOT cannot route trucks and other commercial vehicles on neighborhood roads or county roads, which means they must stick to state highways. And with Lake Charlevoix lining the east side of M-66 and virtually no major roads available to the west, MDOT was forced to get creative.

The first recommended detour takes you south on M-66 from East Jordan to Mancelona, ​​jogs west and north on M-88 to the top of Torch Lake, then brings you onto US-31 to Charlevoix where you can meet M-66 again. In total, the full detour is 73 miles and 1 hour and 30 minutes, according to Google Maps.

The alternative detour is only a little shorter. Southbound M-66 takes you to M-32, cruises near Elmira, hops on US-131 north to Petoskey, then follows US-31 along the coast through Charlevoix and heads south on M-66. This route is 67 miles and 1 hour and 23 minutes.

“Detours are important,” Lake acknowledges, “but that’s because we needed to identify detours on state highways that are built to accommodate commercial vehicles.”

The grass ain’t greener
Aquatic life may be happier with their new culvert this fall, but several nearby business owners fear the project will eat into their summer profits.

“We found that the fairly immediate impact reduced our business by at least 50%,” says Paul Vermeesch, co-owner of Stonehedge Gardens with his wife, Cindy.

Located 4 miles north of Lacroix Road on M-66, the rustic storefront is surrounded by flower-filled gardens, and the shop itself houses works by local artisans, housewares, antiques and specialty jewelry, this which makes it a popular summer stopover.

“We’re a seasonal business because most are here, and those are the busiest two months of the year,” says Paul, adding that July and August are the months when the business gets the most revenue. operating to maintain it for the next one. 10 months.

But Stonehedge falls on the wrong side of the shutdown for people coming from south or central northern Michigan, and even as far north as Petoskey drivers are advised to avoid M-66 and take the detour at the place.

“We’re definitely missing a lot of traffic,” Cindy said. “There won’t be that road traffic that we normally get.” She says she’s grateful that many locals know about the secondary roads, but fears that those who don’t will be put off by the closure and that visitors to the area will have no idea how to find Stonehedge.

Other affected businesses along the M-66 corridor north of Lacroix include Hungry Ducks Farm, Castle Farms, The Landing restaurant and Otis Pottery, to name a few. Right in the middle of the construction zone is Elm Pointe Park and Natural Area. The park is open, confirms the City of East Jordan, and the 59th annual Portside Art Fair remains scheduled for August 6-7, though attendees may need to do a little magic to get there.

The timing is tough for businesses, but MDOT had its own schedule restrictions.

“MDOT is not exempt from following fishing restrictions set by various wildlife organizations,” says Brad Swanson, construction engineer on the project. “We knew that with a project like this, we had to be out of the river on October 1st for their needs.”

Swanson says the 8-week deadline couldn’t have fallen before Memorial Day (again, for fish restrictions) and MDOT wanted to avoid working on busy holidays like Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day. There would also be no time to complete the project in the fall, and Swanson says they were very aware of the return to school, which could have caused problems with buses.

“It was the best 8-week window to be able to combine other restrictions, holiday restrictions, mobility, tourism, as well as comply with these environmental restrictions,” says Swanson.

give us a sign
The Vermeeschs say they understand why the culvert replacement is underway and that MDOT had little choice in routes or timing – “they are a seasonal business too”, jokes Paul – although they would have liked to be informed about the project. so they can plan their summer and budget accordingly.

Cindy says they first heard a rumor about the culvert replacement and M-66 closing in February, but couldn’t confirm it with MDOT or their chamber of commerce. It wasn’t until Paul saw a sign advising drivers of the start of construction in early July that they knew the project was underway.

Lake confirms that signage is one of the primary methods used by MDOT to raise awareness of plans, along with press releases, social media posts, and posting information to the travel site Mi Drive (Michigan .gov/drive). “We hope people see the news and the other methods we use to warn them, but often drivers, commuters and residents see these signs that they pass by every day,” he says.

Having only a few days to prepare for the closure was a bit of a blow for Stonehedge Gardens. “[MDOT is] do whatever they can on a very necessary project,” says Paul. “I guess our only disappointment is not knowing [the project was happening], where we could adjust our purchases, advertising, signage, things like that. It affects our bottom line… getting out of COVID and all that is a tough road to walk.

Asked if the MDOT plans to help drivers know that M-66 companies are hungry for customers, Lake said, “We don’t have any signs specifically warning drivers that companies are hungry. accessible on the M-66, but we still see a lot of traffic to the north and south of the project location despite the closure We have added additional signs [last] week to help reinforce the message that the road is closed to through traffic and direct drivers to the detour. Complete closure of this project will allow our contractor to complete its work in a safer and faster manner, which will reduce the overall impact duration of the closure and detour.

Be sure to skip the Lord to Lacroix section of M-66, but as long as you’re not driving a tractor-trailer, there are plenty of safe and easy ways to navigate around the closure and reach businesses in the area. M-66. If you don’t have a Maps app to do the work for you, call the company you’re trying to reach and they’ll do their best to help you.

A not so rare situation
The tricky combination of roadwork closures and local business revenue has been a hot topic in northern Michigan for the past few years. For example, the Groleau Farmers Market in Traverse City was heavily impacted by a traffic circle installed on Hammond and Four Mile Roads in the summer of 2021. In June, they told 9&10 News they had seen a drop 75% in ice cream sales and a 50% drop. percentage drop in product sales.

Similarly, Rare Bird Brewpub in downtown TC found itself at the crossroads of two bridge projects in 2021. The restaurant-slash-brewery is located on Lake Avenue between Eighth and Cass streets, and, for much As of last summer, both the Eighth Street Bridge and the Cass Street Bridge were under construction.

Co-owner Tina Schuette says there was a “noticeable” change in business once construction began, to the tune of a 25-30% drop year-over-year. She notes that thankfully the city has been able to keep businesses informed in terms of timing, so neither the work nor the slowdown came as a surprise.

Rare Bird has focused its efforts on raising awareness among residents. “We posted messages on social media, sort of for locals to say, ‘Just so you know, tourists are having trouble finding us and it’s quiet! ‘” Schuette said.

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