GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The stretch of US-131 between 28th Street and Wealthy Street on average saw close to 125,000 vehicles a day. Despite the pandemic, traffic volumes there are still about 80 percent of that.
The freeway pavement is a crazy quilt of patches applied over the decades since that part of US-131 was built in the early 1960s. When we drive there, we are driving on the original pavement. It has never been replaced.
Looking to the future, the Michigan Department of Transportation has posted an online survey to give drivers a chance to offer ideas, suggestions, and feedback on what should be done to improve the freeway.
MDOT faces a lot of challenges in upgrading the freeway.
“it's very narrow,” says MDOT Grand Region spokesperson John Richard. “You've got businesses, you've got neighborhoods, you've got the railroad, you've got all kinds of things in your way that prevent further development. Things either have to be moved, shut down, or you have to have some sort of combination.”
MDOT has no immediate projects scheduled for 131 between 28th Street and Wealthy Street. “We don't want folks to think there's an actual project that's on the near horizon,” Richard notes. “This is just the initial stages to get as many conceptual alternatives that we as we possibly can.”
Besides the physical challenges are fiscal ones. Improving US-131 will be expensive, and MDOT has faced a money crunch for years.
“There's so much that we could do if we had if we had the funding to accommodate the growth of West Michigan,” Richard says.
A recent bond has allowed MDOT to schedule projects around the state where complete pavement replacement is possible instead of mere patches and repaving. That is not an option for this stretch of road. The cost of replacing the original concrete would use up an entire year’s budget for the Grand Region, Richard tells us.