MDOT reflects on the one-year anniversary of the Paul B. Henry Freeway (M-6)
November 23, 2005 - - Thursday, Nov. 17, marked the official one-year anniversary of the Paul B. Henry Freeway (M-6), also known as the South Beltline. The $650 million project was planned, designed, and constructed over a 20-year period, from 1985 to 2005. Since its opening, more than 10 million vehicles have traveled along the corridor. In the process of building the freeway, many jobs were created. One year after the opening, M-6 continues to deliver significant transportation and economic value to the region and Michigan.
The origin of the project can be traced to the late 1950s as a plan to replace US-16 connecting Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Muskegon. In the 1980s, MDOT and area officials, through the local metropolitan planning organization, began conducting major studies of routing options and the potential impact of the proposed freeway. Local and state officials agreed on a conceptual route for the proposed freeway and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process was initiated. The EIS was completed in 1993, and MDOT began designing the project and purchasing property along the corridor.
In 1997, construction began on the first phase of the three-phase project. Work was expedited through each phase, resulting in the opening of the first phase between I-96 and M-37 (Broadmoor Avenue) in 2001, and completion of the entire freeway on Nov. 17, 2004. The opening of M-6 took place one year ahead of the accelerated 2005 schedule, and four years earlier than the original 2008 schedule.
Overall, the project has impacted travel patterns and improved mobility for the entire region. Permanent Traffic Recorders have been recording traffic data along M-6 since its opening date. One traffic recorder along M-37 has been recording M-6 traffic since the opening of the first phase in 2001. After the opening of the first phase, the average daily traffic (ADT) was between 10,000 to 12,000 vehicles. Once the entire M-6 opened, the ADT east of M-37 increased to approximately 24,000. As of September 2005, the ADT neared 27,000 vehicles. Along M-6 near Eastern Avenue an ADT of approximately 40,000 vehicles was recorded in 2004, and as of September 2005, that number had risen to 47,000 vehicles per day.
The traffic recorder near Eastern Avenue is one of the most advanced recorders that MDOT uses. It has the ability to count and classify vehicles, as well as monitor vehicle weights. Because of this capability, data can be collected and analyzed for commercial truck traffic along M-6. One month after M-6 officially opened, commercial vehicles accounted for approximately 6,000 ADT. In August 2005, the commercial ADT had risen to approximately 9,000 vehicles (15 percent of the total traffic in 2004, to 19 percent in 2005), illustrating the importance of the M-6 freeway to economic development in the area.
The opening of M-6 also has impacted other major corridors in Grand Rapids. For example, prior to opening the new highway, daily traffic along I-196 near College Avenue was nearly 80,000 vehicles per day. Since the opening of the new freeway, there has been a decrease in traffic to approximately 67,000 ADT; however, traffic on I-196 has been increasing as construction on the corridor draws to a close and motorists adjust their travel patterns. There also has been a slight decrease in traffic recorded along I-196 at 8th Avenue near Hudsonville, with volumes dropping from an average of 45,000 to approximately 39,000 vehicles per day. Traffic along 28th Street near Division Avenue has decreased from the previous 39,000 vehicles per day to the current 32,000 vehicles per day.
Traffic recorders along US-131 near 54th Street have recorded steady traffic numbers since the opening of M-6, but decreased in 2005, which may due to major construction that took place along US-131. Analysis of the counts along US-131 will continue for the next several years.
Data collection and analysis of the impact that M-6 has had on local roads is still under-way, but may be significant in respect to traffic counts along Bryon Road in Ottawa County. In 2003, traffic counts west of Kenowa Avenue were approximately 9,000 vehicles per day. Traffic counts taken in 2005 revealed a major reduction of vehicles to approximately 4,000. The western end of Bryon Road near I-196 by Zeeland, for the same time period revealed a reduction of vehicles from approximately 8,700 to about 6,200.
"The preliminary data regarding the impact of M-6 on Byron Road is impressive," said Aaron Bodbyl-Mast, Ottawa County planner. "Byron Road is located in one of the fastest growing areas of Ottawa County and traffic on Byron Road has been increasing steadily for the past decade. However, it appears that the opening of M-6 has reversed that trend. According to 2005 data, traffic decreased significantly along Byron Road from Kenowa Avenue to 64th Avenue," he continued. "In some cases, 2005 traffic counts at some intersections dropped by over 50 percent from 2003 counts."
M-6 also has provided alternate routes for other major road projects, such as 44th Street in Kentwood. Traffic near Kalamazoo Avenue reduced from 42,000 ADT in 2002, to 35,000 ADT in 2005, but may have been affected by construction.
"The South Beltline is a big benefit to the county road system by significantly reducing traffic volumes and trucks on several major east/west primary roads," noted Steve Warren, deputy director of the Kent County Road Commission.
In addition, it will provide an alternate route for traffic in 2006, once several major bridge projects along I-196 and I-96 begin. Additional traffic counts coordinated and published by the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, are due in early 2006, and will provide further information on the impact of the M-6 freeway.
It may take several years until the impact of M-6 on travel patterns is fully realized, but the freeway will continue to provide improved mobility for the area and encourage economic growth for the region and the state of Michigan. This project is a credit to all of the local and state officials who have been involved in developing the project, in addition to MDOT and its contractors involved in building this major transportation investment.
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