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Delay season: Houghton road project begins next week

Michigan Department of Transportation rendering A $9.6 million reconstruction project between downtown Houghton and Michigan Technological University is scheduled to begin Monday. The two-year project will start this year with improvements to Townsend Drive, including the addition of a median and the reduction to two lanes of traffic.

HOUGHTON — A $9.6 million reconstruction project on U.S. 41 between downtown Houghton and Michigan Technological University will get underway on Monday.

The project is intended to improve traffic flow, as well as improve pedestrian safety and reduce unnecessary maintenance costs.

Work will start this year with Townsend Drive. The current four-lane configuration will be reduced to two lanes with a median. Third lanes will be added at intersections, with turnarounds and crossovers as needed. The wider sidewalks on College Avenue and Cliff Drive are intended to promote continuity between College Avenue and the Michigan Tech campus.

Pedestrian crossings will also be added at high-volume spots near Tech, along with median refuges to increase safety.

In the work this summer, both lanes of traffic will be redirected to the current southbound lane while the northbound lane is reconstructed. In the next stage, northbound traffic will be rerouted onto Cliff Drive. Because of utility work on MacInnes Drive, outbound traffic will be reduced to one lane. People entering MacInnes Drive will have to detour down Blanche Street.

Construction work for this summer is tentatively scheduled to begin May 3 and finish by Sept. 24. Any detours are expected to be ended by Aug. 27. Work will resume in 2022, and is expected to start by early May and finish by mid-September.

College Avenue, Montezuma Avenue and Franklin Square work will happen in 2022. The east end of Montezuma Avenue will be reduced from three lanes to two. Car access will end for the “Ruby Ramp,” which will still be available for pedestrians. The third lane will be replaced by a concrete sidewalk, aimed at making it easier for pedestrians to cross from Montezuma Avenue to College Avenue. To that end, there will also be a crosswalk at the west end of College Avenue.

“It’ll make that a more friendly area for them to cross U.S. 41,” Michigan Department of Transportation engineer Alan Anderson said at a public forum on the project in Houghton earlier this month.

The lane changes will also allow vehicles turning onto Shelden from Franklin Square to remain in their own lane, instead of having to yield to traffic coming from Shelden Avenue, Anderson said.

College Avenue will go from two lanes to three, adding a center turn lane. The current two-lane configuration has led to frequent bottlenecks from cars making left turns.

During 2022 construction, southbound U.S. 41 traffic will be redirected at MacInnes Drive, loop around on Sharon Avenue and M-26 before returning to the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. Local traffic on Shelden Avenue and Montezuma Avenue will be maintained. Northbound U.S. 41 traffic will continue.

“To make this work, the two four-way stops on Sharon Avenue will be converted to temporary traffic signals,” Anderson said.

Houghton Councilor Joan Suits asked if any new traffic signals would be added on Blanche Street in light of the increased traffic from MacInnes Drive. No changes to the traffic control setup are planned, as the only traffic being diverted would be uphill, which accounts for a lesser amount of traffic, MDOT said.

One challenge in the design was not damaging historic features. Light poles along College Avenue will be salvaged, while features such as a historic rock wall at a house along the street will be preserved.

On the 900 block, small right-of-way purchases were made to the sidewalk and to relocate a light pole.

As street work goes on, water and sewer improvements will be made to a system more than a century old. The $2.5 million in work will include almost 5,400 feet of new water main and more than 4,400 feet of sanitary sewer.

Sixty-four new drainage structures will be added to reduce ponding, while the system will be improved to expand capacity and capture more pollutants.

People looking for more detailed project drawings or to provide feedback can email MDOT-Houghton2021@michigan.gov, view the project website at michigan.gov/mdot/0,4616,7-151-9621_11008-527775–,00.html, or comment online at michigan.gov/documents/mdot/US-41_Houghton_Rescontruction_Comment_Form__690017_7.pdf.

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