Plan to rebuild downtown Kalamazoo with two-way streets costs $30 million

KALAMAZOO, MI — Kalamazoo leaders are set to spend millions of dollars to dramatically redesign the city’s downtown.

Kalamazoo leaders estimate that $30 million will be the cost to get a new downtown by transforming the city’s road network over years of construction.

“These roads were built for these tankers racing down the road. It’s about building a city for people, mobility and interconnection,” Commissioner Chris Praedel told a committee meeting this week, when commissioners unanimously approved the spending of the first $955,035 for design work on Kalamazoo Avenue.

The $30 million estimate will cover the cost of design and construction to change Kalamazoo Avenue, Michigan Avenue, Lovell Street, Main Street and South Street to two-way streets, Utilities Manager James Baker told MLive / Kalamazoo Gazette. The work will be spread over several years.

“It’s happening and it’s exciting and I can’t wait to see it,” Praedel said. He mentioned downtown Minneapolis and other innovative places, with features like green bike lanes and trees in the central islands.

“It finally makes some of these things possible. It takes Kalamazoo to the next level,” Praedel said, envisioning the network coming to life.

City leaders believe street conversions are key to unlocking the potential of downtown and bringing about more positive change for the city.

“It’s very big. It’s one of the biggest jobs Kalamazoo has seen in probably decades,” utility manager James Baker told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette. He mentioned the $30 million as a broad, preliminary estimate for the road works to give everyone an idea of ​​the scale, he said.

When the city is spending nearly $1 million on the design, Baker said the intention is to move forward with the rest of the larger project.

“We can’t just do Kalamazoo Avenue and stop,” Baker said. Michigan Avenue is expected to follow the Kalamazoo Avenue work, as the two roads are currently twinned into one-way parallels, he said.

Dustin Black, a Kalamazoo resident, said he fully supports efforts to convert the city’s one-way pairs back to two-way traffic.

“The return to one-way streets does two critical things that help the city achieve its goals: it lessens the ‘freeway’ feel of the downtown street, improving road safety, and supports a more wide range of businesses along the corridors,” Black said. MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.

Kalamazoo resident Dan Kups disagrees with the project.

“I personally think it’s rude that a majority of these people who ran for office to rebuild neighborhoods and told us the city is broke are now using a ‘budget surplus’ and stealing future funding from upcoming projects to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kups told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.

They should use that money to fix existing infrastructure inside central neighborhoods, not just arterials, he said.

Some commissioners have questioned the cost of the nearly $1 million design contract for the Kalamazoo Avenue work ahead of its approval on Monday.

Commissioner Stephanie Hoffman asked about the award and said the city has other challenges as well.

The project includes work on sidewalks and underground infrastructure such as the replacement of old storm water pipes and aqueducts. The overall cost estimate could change depending on decisions on lighting, street layout and other factors that will be made later.

“As we continue to dig into this layer of infrastructure, these costs increase,” Baker said.

Baker said work would begin in 2024 with Kalamazoo Avenue, followed by Michigan Avenue the following year, and the other projects in subsequent years.

Vehicles pass through the intersection of Rose Street and West Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. A winter storm warning is in effect until 11 p.m. Thursday evening. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

The goal is to open up neighborhoods by bringing back more of a grid network, Baker said.

He called the $30 million a low estimate.

The City of Kalamazoo is applying for or has received obligations from several sources of funding, including the Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study and Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (INCREASE) grants for design and construction, Baker said.

The city plans to use jurisdictional transfer funds the city received from MDOT, Baker said. A total of about $12 million has been received, he said, although there are other projects and surface treatments that are also included in the $12 million scope. Stadium Drive is an example where some of the money is used, he said.

The city is looking to fund a substantial portion of the conversion costs with outside funds such as state and federal infrastructure dollars, Deputy City Manager Jeff Chamberlain told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.

Dean Hauck, owner of the Michigan News Agency, said his family owns the building and the business at 308 W. Michigan Ave. since 1947. Her father ran it before she took over in 1988, she said.

West Michigan adapts to life with the coronavirus

Michigan News Agency owner Dean Hauck poses for a portrait at his store in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Hauck took over the store in 1988 from his father who opened the kiosk to newspapers in 1947. Hauck will remain open to the public, “The most important thing in my world is that you can make our choices based on research, information, perception, wisdom – all of those things” , she said. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell

The business suffered when Kalamazoo initially changed two-way streets to one-way streets in the 1960s, she said.

“You can see in our accounting how many customers we lost per day because they were going elsewhere,” Hauck said.

She wants Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue to return to two-way traffic, she said, in part because of the calming effect it’s supposed to have.

Kalamazoo Bike Week president Paul Selden told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette that he thinks the work could have a positive impact, although the design will determine how well the idea translates into reality.

“All the stars are aligned,” Selden said, and he’s confident that the staff in public services and community planning and economic development have what it takes to get the job done. “If something good can come out of it, they’ll find a way to make it happen.”

He thinks the changes could benefit cyclists, as the city intentionally includes non-motorized and active transportation users in its planning.

Kalamazoo Bike Week

Paul Selden, president of Kalamazoo Bike Week 2020, poses for a portrait at Eliason Trail in Portage, Michigan on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (Kendall Warner | MLive.com)Kendall Warner | MLive.com

Kalamazoo resident Anna Neidrick said she believes Kalamazoo should focus on failing parts of the community before spending tens of millions of dollars on special projects.

“They should focus on our crumbling streets, poverty, violence and affordable housing,” Neidrick said.

Projects like converting downtown to two-way streets and work on the Inkster Street Bridge are unnecessary, she said.

“With people still suffering from the financial impacts of COVID, inflation at an all-time high, and parents struggling not only to find childcare, but also to afford it, we should do whatever we can to help our community recover,” she said. mentioned.

She recently started a Facebook group called “Fix Kalamazoo Roads” so that the citizens of Kalamazoo can document and publish the worst streets in the city, in an effort to highlight how serious the situation is, Neidrick said.

Black said the new layout would be a safer environment for all road users and unlock economic potential.

He is a member of ModeShifta small, community-based collective of volunteers who strive to make walking, biking and public transit the easy choice for everyday transportation.

The group plans to continue advocating for a network of protected bike lanes downtown, he said. Research has shown that thoughtful and safe cycling infrastructure catalyzes the local economy, he said, and Michigan Avenue would be the perfect setting.

Kalamazoo leaders have been talking for years about moving to two-way streets.

Westnedge Avenue and Park Street are not currently included in plans to turn the streets into two-way streets, the city said, although that may change in the future.

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