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MDOT streets could be turned over to Kalamazoo following Monday vote

The city of Kalamazoo is on the verge of acquiring ownership of roads MDOT currently controls in the city. Proponents said the move would give more freedom for city planners to re-configure sections of streets that run downtown. (WWMT/Andrew Bisset)

The city of Kalamazoo is on the verge of acquiring ownership of roads MDOT currently controls in the city. Proponents said the move would give more freedom for city planners to re-configure sections of streets that run downtown.

Many say the current network of one-way MDOT roads present safety hazards and are confusing to navigate.

Getting around downtown Kalamazoo can be a headache, especially for drivers like Grand Rapids resident Kayeligh Thomas.

"I’m much more comfortable with the roads up there, but when I come down to Kalamazoo, I find the one-ways overwhelm me," Thomas said.

The one-way roads that zip through downtown may look a lot different in the future.

On Monday night, the city commission will vote an agreement that would grant a transfer of of Stadium Drive, Westnedge Avenue, Park Street, Michikal Street and segments of Kings Highway and M-43 that cross through downtown.

According to the agreement, these roadways would no longer serve as state trunk-line highways. Andrew Haan, president of the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, said the move would give the city total control of the local streets.

"Having control of the streets would allow for any number of different changes, things like permitting and sidewalk cafes, street closures and construction projects. This would impact seven or eight neighborhoods in the community and really have a huge impact on safety and economic viability for the whole community. " Haan said.

According to the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 master plan and strategic vision process, which was adopted in 2017, noted anticipated changes include slowing down traffic and converting one-way streets to accommodate traffic in both directions.

"We see a whole lot of upside to this. The feedback the community gave was around walk-ability and slower speeds and connectivity to the neighborhood," Haan said.

Haan said city planners have long sought to control these MDOT trunk-line highways to make Kalamazoo safer and easier to navigate.

"There are a lot of accidents down here on Michigan Avenue. Thankfully we haven’t seen pedestrians killed or anything," Haan said.

Michael Rappleye is a manager at Bimbo’s Pizza on Michigan Avenue, a one-lane street. His customers typically have a hard time navigating the roads.

"We see it everyday. People come south on Pitcher and get to the intersection on Michigan, make a turn then start going the wrong way and start freaking out," Rappleye said.

Rappeleye said he's unsure if turning the one-way highway into a two-way street is the only or best answer.

"It's wait and see. It’s something you can predict it all you want but it’s something you really don’t know what will happen until it happens," Rappleye said.

City officials plan to spend much of 2019 planning potential changes. Until then, Kayleigh Thomas will face the frustration, which he hopes not for too long.

"Then maybe I can get my way around here a little easier," Thomas said.

As part of the deal MDOT would give the city a $11.7 million lump sum payment to cover major repairs for the next 10 years.

If commission votes to pass the agreement, city officials expect any work will begin sometime in 2020.


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