Michigan Land Use Institute

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Grand Haven-Holland Bypass Will Result in More Congestion, Air Pollution, and Costs to Taxpayers

Road doesn't make sense

June 21, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kelly Thayer
Michigan Land Use Institute

The state proposed today to build a 27-mile highway bypass of U.S. 31 between Grand Haven and Holland that is certain to promote more traffic congestion, speed up sprawl and farmland loss, and reverse recent improvements in West Michigan’s air quality, according to the Michigan Land Use Institute.

“No one wins with this decision: not motorists, not people who value clean air and open space, and not those concerned with rising taxes.” said Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Coordinator with the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Building a major new road to solve congestion doesn’t work. The approach has been compared to loosening your belt to fight obesity. The new pavement encourages people to drive more, reducing most of the predicted congestion relief a few years after the road opens. This is the conclusion reached by three prominent studies in the last year, the most recent conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The technical term for this is “induced travel” and was recognized as early as 1938. Sixty years later, MDOT hasn’t gotten the message, but the public is beginning to understand it from experience. New roads embolden people to live farther from where they work, encourage sprawl at each intersection, and quickly produce the very congestion they are supposed to solve. Meanwhile, new roads drain passengers from bus systems that offer real promise in combating congestion and pollution.

Until 1994, West Michigan’s air was at times so smoggy that it failed to meet federal clean air requirements and threatened the health of residents. The good news is that air is becoming cleaner in Kent and Ottawa counties, thanks to hard work by individuals, businesses, and local governments. Now, the state proposes to reverse this success by promoting more traffic and more ozone pollution. Ozone air pollution damages crops, forests, and materials such as rubber and plastics. Adverse health effects from ozone include eye irritation, decreased vision, increased incidence of asthma and chronic lung disease, coughing, dizziness, nausea, and reduced heart and lung capacity. People who exercise heavily are also at risk.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) estimates that it will cost businesses in West Michigan $14 million per year to implement additional control measures if clean air cannot be maintained. Much of that cost will be passed along to consumers in higher retail prices, in addition to the direct added cost of emission testing centers, if needed.

Taxpayers also will foot the bill for the sprawl that follows a new road. In addition to paying to build and maintain the road, the public also covers the cost to extend water and sewer lines and other municipal services along the new development corridor

Unlike the picture of broad consensus claimed by the Michigan Department of Transportation, not all affected local governments have supported the proposal to cope with congestion by building more roads. The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in January to upgrade existing U.S. 31 to a limited-access freeway through Grand Haven. The county board noted that, according to the state’s own estimate, traffic just north of Grand Haven will continue to increase even if the bypass is built.

Moreover, unlike in neighboring Ottawa and Kent counties, the air breathed by Muskegon County residents does not meet federal standards and could grow even worse as traffic swells.
In line with Muskegon County’s government, numerous West Michigan residents have advocated investing taxpayer money in existing U.S. 31 to make it handle more traffic more efficiently.

“The West Michigan community has offered a host of recommendations for how improve traffic flow on the existing roadway and improve the Grand River bridge, but their ideas have not been reflected by MDOT’s decision,” said Arlin Wasserman, policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute.

In its environmental impact statement, the state did identify a true solution to West Michigan’s congestion, namely to better manage the existing road system. The “Traffic System Management 2005” alternative would eliminate congestion entirely for a period of at least five years at modest cost, and involve no adverse farmland or wetland impacts. This would provide the time for the state to fully explore bus and train options that would greatly reduce traffic congestion, enhance air quality, preserve undeveloped land, and save taxpayer money.

The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, non-profit research, educational and service organization founded in 1995. The Institute’s mission is to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity and protects Michigan’s unmatched natural resources.

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