The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Ishpeming Transportation Service Center (TSC) and its partners took an innovative approach on the US-41 Houghton, Michigan, downtown streetscape project by, among other things, actually drawing traffic and business into the work zone during construction.
US-41 runs through the city of Houghton on a one-way pair, with northbound traffic on two-lane Shelden Avenue, and southbound on two-lane Montezuma Avenue. Originally, MDOT proposed a simple resurfacing project for downtown Houghton. However, when MDOT approached the city with its proposal, the city volunteered to help make it much more.
By coupling funding from traffic and safety, road preservation, and Transportation Enhancement grants with city-secured monies from Michigan's Vibrant Small Cities Initiative and a Rural Development loan, a simple resurfacing project became a $4.6 million end-to-end and storefront-to-storefront reconstruction. The ratio of funding, with the city putting up more than two-thirds of the money, was atypical for a state trunkline project.
Since the project then included complete reconstruction of the roadway, the city took the opportunity to replace the underground utilities (water, sewer, storm sewer and electricity). Together, MDOT, the city, and the project design engineer, U.P. Engineers and Architects, developed a plan that included concrete brick pavers (another unique choice for a segment of state highway) for the roadway, new decorative sidewalks, and new streetlights matching historical lights from Houghton's past.
Routing traffic away from downtown was bound to cause concern for businesses and their customers, planned mitigation notwithstanding. The city and MDOT went to great lengths to make sure the negative impact of the detour on drivers, businesses and their customers was minimized. Special events, held during the project, drew thousands of people to downtown Houghton right in the middle of this complete reconstruction.
Click on an image to view a larger version:
Old photo of downtown Houghton Source: NTEC
Downtown Houghton before improvements Source: NTEC
Events in downtown Houghton drew crowds during construction Source: NTEC
Construction in downtown Houghton Source: NTEC
A BMX race using excess dirt from excavation during construction Source: NTEC
Workers install paving bricks in downtown Houghton Source: NTEC
Completed construction in downtown Houghton Source: NTEC
Completed construction Source: NTEC
New street paving stones Source: NTEC
Source: National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse
A critical part of the recommended plan was the work should include a mitigation plan that did the following: kept business informed of the construction schedule and when and where construction would take place, keep public aware of access to downtown, maintain access to business front or rear entry at all times, provide an immediate contact for issues arising during construction, complete construction to least disruptive times, finish as early as possible, and incorporating public events into the project.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Ishpeming Transportation Service Center (TSC) and its partners (City of Houghton, U.P. Engineers & Architects, Bacco Construction, and the Downtown Houghton Merchants' Association) implemented this recommendation from the Blueprint study and actually drawing traffic and business into the work zone during construction, not just as ribbon cutting opportunity, but as a celebration of the construction and revitalization. This drew hundreds of people into the downtown.
Context Sensitive Solutions Approach
To minimize the construction impacts to business and maintain access, the Bacco Construction along with subcontractors Arrow Constructions of Negaunee and Wright Electric of Marquette, construction crews kept motorist and pedestrian mobility in the front of their minds. For the blocks under construction, temporary wooden walkways were installed immediately after sidewalk removal, which greatly shortened the times when customers could not access individual businesses. The wooden sidewalks were moved to the next segment of construction after work was completed on the previous section.
Steve Krug, president of the Houghton Downtown Merchants' Association and owner of The Lunch Bag restaurant, said there were no more than a few hours one morning when concrete was being poured when his customers couldn't access his business. Otherwise, his business stayed open as usual. As a result of the staggered construction staging, access to individual businesses was only impacted for 7-8 weeks total, while the block they were located on was under construction. That's less than half as long as they would be affected if the entire downtown was constructed at once, which would have taken the entire summer or 4-1/2 months.
Adequate parking during the construction was a concern for the business community. To address this concern, the usual parallel parking was replaced with angle parking during construction, making room for more vehicles downtown. City Manager Scott MacInnes reported that downtown gained 20 or more parking spaces, an increase of 33 percent, which were fully utilized during construction.
Another complication was a second significant project in the area: a boulevard extension on US-41 through the Michigan Technological University campus to the east of downtown Houghton. The nearby university took advantage of the construction work for its first National Summer Transportation Institute, organizing tours of the downtown work for the 30 participating high school students, led by MDOT's construction technicians. Local parents brought their children to the easily accessed construction site as summertime "field trips."
The outcomes and benefits of the CSS approach to the project are many and include the following:
- Improved community relations between MDOT, our contractors, and our customers, by working together to problem solve and innovate early in the project.
- Gaining a multiple benefit for each project dollar spent. If these project scope elements would have been implemented under separate projects, the cost would have been much greater and would have taken much longer to implement.
- Provided the opportunity to implement community planning efforts for placemaking and economic development. This is delivering on MDOT’s stated mission of “Providing the highest quality integrated transportation services for economic benefit and improved quality of life.”
- Improving pedestrian access on US-41 (Shelden Ave.)
- Several businesses/employers (incl. Michigan Tech. University, Ford, and General Electric) have located or expanded their operations downtown Houghton.
- 100 new jobs have been added to the downtown.
- One new retail/apartment building was built.
- Houghton is working with developers to provide 25-30 additional residential units to address a new interest in living downtown.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has had a CSS policy since 2005, which requires MDOT to utilize a CSS project development approach to all projects regardless of size or type whenever possible. MDOT has developed our Fundamentals of Context Sensitive Solutions, which consists of three key elements: Stakeholder Engagement, Flexibility, and Effective Decision Making (please see attached MDOT CSS Fundamentals file for more detail). These three fundamentals are applied to each project from planning and scope development, through design, construction, and operations.
The US-41 (Shelden Ave.) demonstrates these principles in action in the following ways:
- Early, often, and continuous stakeholder engagement with the City of Houghton and the community led to the change of scope and the expansion of the project to leverage resources for mutual benefit.
- Creation of a project team of various professional expertise to facilitate the project improved communication and direction for all participants.
- Engagement with the business owners, residents, and contractor, provided opportunities to stream line the construction process and minimize business disruptions. Created an innovative access construction process which was award winning.
- 2010 Michigan Construction Quality Partnership Award - Breaking the Mold Category
- 2010 National Partnership for Highway Quality Gold Level Award - Breaking the Mold Category
- Leveraged resources to bring about a total solution for the corridor by improving access for both vehicles and pedestrians, and revitalizing and restoring the downtown.
- Worked with the city and community to “celebrate” the downtown revitalization work through concerts, business construction specials, and other community events such as BMX bike races which utilized construction dirt piles. All these took place during construction.
MDOT had in its Five Year Program a project for resurfacing US-41 (Shelden Ave.) as a pavement preservation measure. When the department discussed the project with the City of Houghton, the opportunity to partner and leverage resources became clear. The city had conducted a community visioning planning effort with a consultant called the “Blueprints for Michigan Downtowns”. The result of this effort for the City of Houghton, was: being able to co-exist with strip shopping development, and create reasons for people to be drawn to the downtown. As mentioned, the opportunity to partner and accomplish multiple goals, and leverage resources became clear. The city had the opportunity to upgrade old utility lines under US-41. MDOT would get a reconstruction of US-41, and by combining funding sources, a new revitalized downtown with the new planning goals became possible. By coupling funding from traffic and safety, road preservation, and Transportation Enhancement grants with city-secured monies from Michigan's Vibrant Small Cities Initiative and a Rural Development loan, a simple resurfacing project became a $4.6 million end-to-end and storefront-to-storefront reconstruction. The ratio of funding, with the city putting up more than two-thirds of the money, was atypical for a state trunkline project.
Houghton Streetscape, Shelden Ave. (US-41)