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Getting to work: County begins summer road construction

County begins summer road construction

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Work began on a nearly $2.9 million Houghton County Road Commission project on Old Mill Hill Road Monday. The road has been impassable since the Father’s Day Flood in 2018.

RIPLEY — Despite delays caused by COVID-19, repairs of roads damaged in the Father’s Day flood are underway in Houghton County. 

Work started Monday on a nearly $2.9 million project on Old Mill Hill Road to rebuild 0.41 miles of roadway, including storm sewer and culverts. Funded through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), it is expected to be finished by Sept. 1. 

It joins Coal Dock Road, where a similar $698,000 project is underway for 0.99 miles and is expected to be finished June 19. 

Some of the road projects would have started in the spring, but were delayed as a result of state executive orders, said Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju. 

“A lot of government agencies, local, state and federal, were scrambling to come up with policies that would make everyone compliant with the rules, which slowed down things,” he said. 

Project review was stalled at the state level after the State Historic Preservation Office temporarily closed its office due to COVID-19. 

“Anything that had anything to do with federal monies, those projects couldn’t proceed in the letting process because of that,” Harju said. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel who would normally review the project were also redirected to the COVID-19 response. 

Many factories were also shut down, making supplies harder to come by at first, Harju said. 

Contractors also had to come up with COVID-19 policies. The road commission did too, including safety wear, masks, and maintaining a six-foot distance when possible.

“All of that, going along with the bidding, has been a busy spring,” Harju said. 

COVID-19 has also pushed back the search for $6 million in matching funds in federal highway roads in the county, including $4.5 million for the road commission. Right as the COVID-19 crisis started, Harju met with legislators in Lansing to seek road funding. About $1.4 million was included in a supplemental bill passed by the House and Senate. It then went to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who by that time was trying to address the pandemic. 

“Everything that was in the bill that was not COVID was vetoed, and our matching funds, unfortunately, were a part of that,” Harju said. 

Although legislators remain aware of the need, it could be a while before the county sees that money, Harju said. 

Fortunately, payment on the road commission’s State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) loan has been pushed back, Harju said. 

Even with the delays, it looks to be a busy construction season, with county and state road projects causing bottlenecking, Harju said. 

One frequently-used crossing will be out of commission starting June 8, when the road commission removes and replaces the Superior Road Bridge over the Pilgrim River. It is expected to be complete September 18, though it will reopen to traffic August 28. 

“That’s a heavy traffic road in the county, so a lot of people in the Chassell area south use that road to bypass going through Houghton and using that highway,” Harju said.  

A full list of county summer road projects can be found at houghtoncountyroads.org/news/89.pdf.

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