True fairy tale

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when along the southern shores of Lake Superior, there were only native Indians, and later, a few French fur traders and missionaries; the land was serene with a plethora of flora and fauna. It was paradise. But it did not last that way.

Then, in 1851 to be exact, an intrepid band of settlers found that idyllic paradise to be the perfect place to settle, work, and raise families; ten years later they created the village of Houghton, and there, in the northern-most tip of Michigan’s upper peninsula, a rush was on. Thanks to a copper boom, the village burgeoned and the economy skyrocketed. When a railroad was introduced from Marquette to Houghton in 1893, more people ignored the tales that “only thieves, crooks, murderers and wild Indians lived there” to arrived in droves and made a good living in large thanks to the copper industries.

They spread to populate the land along both sides of the Portage Lake, built a bridge to connect the north tip of the “Copper Country” with the mainland below; and a wealthier few built homes along the eastern part of town, turning a dirt road into a grand boulevard, creating a beautiful sylvan church-like arch overhead into a half mile of lush beauty, from the main street of town to the newly developed Michigan College of Mines at the eastern end in 1885.

The town grew to become a city by 1970. As the city grew, so did traffic issues along that sylvan boulevard (now part of U.S. 41), and there was talk of moving the highway to replace the obsolete railway running along the lake. Unfortunately, before any decision could officially be made, a shrewd group of men living in Houghton joined the city manager, pooled enough money to purchase that shoreline property, tore out the train tracks and sold property to people interested in building along that two mile tract – at the lasting sorrow for the residents along the boulevard, who now faced the problem of a growing highway traffic along their precious avenue – and, eventually, had to lose lawn space on both sides of it plus 10 feet of sidewalk to widen it. Gone were the trees, the ability to park in front of their homes, the once silence of only whispering trees, and the former beauty.

The traffic continued to grow, as now, without a train to bring in merchandise, trucks, semis, motorcycles, and students with cars not only caused city-type traffic, but suffered with the incessant noise it caused, day and night.

Something had to be done. To solve the problem and to repair the highway’s crumbling potholes resulting from the heavier traffic, MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) came to the rescue. What did they plan, residents wondered; unpleasant rumors abounded until recently, when a report arrived with the following message:

“Having this to be a full reconstruct will allow us to make improvements to the operations of the corridor. The lane reduction of Townsend Dr. were decided since the current multi-lane section is short. This did create vehicle passing opportunities, which increases the overall speed through here and also poses a safety concern for the high number of pedestrians that cross U.S. 41 in this area due to MTU. The lane reduction will calm traffic (slow it down) yet still allow for the movement of traffic since we will be introducing dedicated left turn lanes at the cross-over locations. Eliminating direct left turns also simplifies motorist decisions when they enter the highway, further improving safety.

“For College Ave., we’ve experienced a high frequency of rear end crashes related to left turns into driveways and side streets. As we may be aware, a crash in this location causes significant delays even though the severity of the crashes is generally low.

“We are also replacing the concrete pavement at the east end of Montezuma Ave. The new configuration will continue a two-lane road from Isle Royale St. (instead of the three-lane starting here). The proposed project will allow vehicles who are traveling in the right lane (the conventional travel lane in multi-lane roads) to remain in that lane to continue on southbound U.S. 41. The current configurations requires vehicles to move to the middle lane. The additional space gives us room to construct a sidewalk on both sides of the roadway.

“Also, the city’s infrastructure (water/sewer) is fairly old and having MDOT pay for the replacement of pavement, curb and sidewalk allows the city to have water and sewer replaced without having to incur those costs.”

And there you have it. After reconstruction begins this spring, the road widens to serve traffic to the streets running along the south side of the avenue, with permanent residents paid for loss of land to create new sidewalks, and despite the traffic problems temporarily upsetting the traffic flow during construction, MDOT promises a great improvement in the not-too-distant future; so hang onto your safety belts and tempers, folks; it’s going to be a temporarily bumpy ride. But once the repairing process is completed, this tale from years of a once peaceful syvan paradise might yet have a different but promising happy ending – sort of – after all.


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