The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Bessemer's U.S. 2 lane hearing draws varied opinions

 

November 28, 2018

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

MAKING A point to Bessemer city council members is Richard Steiger, standing, during a Monday evening public hearing on the town's proposed U.S. 2 lane changes. Many people offered opinions during the session held in the city hall auditorium.

By P.J. GLISSON

news@yourdailyglobe.com

Bessemer - Weather warnings did not deter numerous people from sharing firm and varied opinions during a Monday evening public hearing on proposed U.S. 2 lane changes in Bessemer.

Bessemer city council members offered the hearing in the city hall auditorium in hopes of gathering as much input as possible before they vote on the matter in coming weeks.

Council member Terry Kryshak, who started the session, said the city's initial concern had been to replace the city's water and sewer system, which has pipes more than 80 years old under the highway.

When city officials began seeking related grants, Kryshak said Michigan Department of Transportation officials saw the situation as an opportunity to fund simultaneous reconstruction of the city's portion of U.S. 2.

"Having MDOT as a partner is going to save Bessemer millions of dollars," said Kryshak of the project scheduled for 2021.

Meanwhile, Kryshak added, Monday's hearing was held specifically to discuss the following four options the city has in designing a new highway system:

(1) Do nothing until the water and sewer pipes reach a crisis level. This is not "feasible," said Kryshak, with city council member Rob Coleman adding that waiting until that point would result in a catastrophic cost for the city to address in the way of long-term damage.

(2) Continue to maintain the current four-lane system. Kryshak said this is complicated by a new federal requirement that two additional feet be added to the existing scheme. This would result in a total width of 46 feet versus the current 44 feet, and has been criticized by highway property owners, who feel a wider highway would result in being too close to their buildings.

(3) Reduce the number of lanes from four to three. This option, said Kryshak, would result in three 12-foot lanes, or a total of 36 feet, which would allow several extra feet for wider sidewalks to provide "a safer pedestrian experience," as well as additional room for signage and greenery. "This decision, however, may make it more difficult for our trucking business," he added, explaining that the center lane would be for left turns only.

(4) Compromise between three and four lanes. Kryshak said this is a new option now offered by MDOT and would include a switch from three to four lanes by The Leather and Gift Shop, which would allow trucks to enter and exit the city's industrial park more easily on Massie Avenue.

Kryshak and Coleman said they initially liked the idea of retaining four lanes, but not when the required added highway width would infringe on sidewalk safety and adjacent property owners. "I don't think it's really fair to people on the highway, taking two more feet of right of way," added council member Linda Nelson regarding option two.

Mayor pro tempore Allen Archie said he wonders whether MDOT could approach the federal government to request a variance to retain the current 11-foot width on all four lanes. MDOT officials at the hearing, however, said a variance is not possible.

"I am 100 percent undecided," said Mayor Adam Zak, who then fielded questions from the public and repeatedly stressed the city's desire to receive as many opinions as possible.

Some of the most fervent concern related to how a three-lane system would affect the trucking and logging business, which Jack Bretall said is the heart of this region. He said truckers will result in sitting at intersections when they are unable to make efficient turns.

Jared Prust added that truckers can't afford to waste time sitting in traffic. "I am one of the truckers that uses Massie Avenue pretty much every day," he said, adding that because trucks cannot gain speed quickly, it is that much harder to make turns with vehicles that are much longer than cars.

"I've been in trucking my whole life," said Travis Smee, who teaches commercial driving at Gogebic Community College. "That is our economy. That is our heritage." He said he'd like to retain the four-lane design as long as possible.

Bretall, Prust and others said that if the city votes for options three or four, they should also install additional stoplights, preferably on each end of town. "That's the only other safe way for us to get out on the road," said Prust.

Bob Avery said lights at Massie Street and Tamarack Avenue "would address most people's concerns" about the three-lane system slowing traffic and making left turns more difficult.

MDOT's Cory Gardner, however, said the 7,500 average daily number of vehicles going in both directions on U.S. 2 in Bessemer is not enough to warrant additional lights. Moreover, he said, "It's not uncommon for traffic crashes to go up at traffic signals," he said.

The biggest area of concern on the east side of town is Tamarack Avenue, next to Steiger's Home Center, which also has a lot of truck traffic.

Owner Richard Steiger said he is concerned that a three-lane system at that location will make turning more difficult, not only for drivers of large trucks, but also for store customers driving pick-up trucks and other large vehicles. "At this point I'm just undecided," he said.

Bill McDonald gave council members a sheet full of names of people who wish to keep the current four-lane configuration. He said when the city experimented with painting three lanes about a decade ago, there was "so much road rage."

If a federal variance really is not possible, then McDonald said, "I want it in writing." He said he intends to contact U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow about the issue.

When Jim Baksic wondered why the lane choice was not on the Nov. 6 ballot, city officials said all of the necessary options would not have fit on the ballot.

"I think option four is actually a pretty good design," said Coleman, who said the compromise between three and four lanes might help to ease trucking concerns.

Jan Massie said the three-lane design does have advantages, especially as part of option four. She emphasized it would keep school children safer and added the town has more than 50 businesses that might get more visitors if drivers slowed down and stopped to visit.

"It's beautiful," said Massie regarding Bessemer. "We're proud of this town. We want people to come here, and we want it to be aesthetically pleasing."

Archie warned that if the city does vote to go with three lanes, the decision will be permanent. "You cannot go back to four lanes," he said.

"We can only hope that this construction season will be only one season," said Kryshak, who reminded that the 2021 sewer and water construction must be completed before a new highway can be built. He added that city officials would appreciate input from truckers regarding how best to redirect traffic during the construction period.

After the hearing, Zak said the session included "a lot of emotion," but he and Kryshak concluded it had gone as well as could be expected.

Coleman said city officials must submit their decision to MDOT by the start of 2019.

 
 
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