NEW BUFFALO — The May 15 New Buffalo Business Association Check-In & Chat focused on the ongoing Red Arrow Highway Union Pier Corridor Improvements Project.
Berrien County Road Commission Managing Director Jason Latham, Road Commission Engineering Supervisor Kevin Stack (both of the Berrien County Road Commission) and Wightman Associates Engineer Melanie Stanage participated.
Latham said the project was a couple of years in the making and was planned by working closely with Chikaming and New Buffalo townships, business owners and the local community during a lengthy process.
“Our first and foremost goal was how do we improve the safety?” he said, later noting that many of those providing input considered the intersection to be unsafe.
Stack said public meetings were held to get input on what the public wanted in the project.
He said the sewer portion of the project, which is currently under way, is probably the most intrusive aspect since it required the closing Red Arrow Highway at the Union Pier Road/Townline Road intersection (the original posted detour route is Kruger Road to Lakeside Road to Warren Woods Road).
Stack said delays due to COVID-19 and rain have pushed back the date when Red Arrow Highway will re-open to early June if everything goes well.
Stack said that intersection is currently an active construction zone with a 30-foot deep hole at its center to facilitate installation of a new sewer line — a process that includes placing three 10-foot wide manholes (he later noted about 15 tickets have been written to motorists driving into the construction zone).
“They’re putting a new line in all the way from Union Pier up along Red Arrow Highway to Berrien Street,” he said. “That project won’t be completed probably until the fall. However our project, the streetscape and road element, will come into play right around after July 4th.”
He said one lane of traffic in each direction will be maintained during that phase of the project.
NBBA Board President Blagica Bottigliero noted that downtown Union Pier businesses are still open.
Stack said New Buffalo Township has purchased “the old RSVP lot” in Union Pier to provide temporary parking as the road construction project goes on this summer.
Stack said the submission of bids for the road portion of the project should get advertised across the state soon, with the awarding of a contract expected in early July and work to begin two weeks later.
He said road work (milling out the asphalt, getting old lanes pulled up, building the new bike path area) will start in the Community Hall Road area and work its way north on Red Arrow Highway. The GRSD sewer project on Red Arrow will be working its way north toward Berrien Street at the other end of the project area.
“They keep moving north and we keep moving north,” Stack said. “We stay out of each others’ way, and by the time they’re done we’ll be coming in behind them.”
He noted that creating a new streetscape in Union Pier will be a year-long project.
“We’re not going to be done until this time next year.”
Stanage said the road itself will be the focus for 2019, leaving a lot of the streetscape elements (sidewalk work, decorative concrete, plantings, installation of bike racks and other amenities) to be done in 2020.
She said there is a dedicated portion of the gowightman.com website for the project (under project updates) that includes updates, schematic layouts and pictures.
Latham shared some of the overview plans of the project during the live chat. He pointed out how Red Arrow Highway will narrow to three lanes as it approaches downtown Union Pier with clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks (including strobing LED lights that can be initiated via a button when someone is looking to cross) and the 10-foot wide non-motorized path that will be on the lake side of the highway from Community Hall to Berrien Street.
It was later noted that the parking spaces along Red Arrow Highway currently located directly in front of businesses such as Whistle Stop and Red Arrow Roadhouse will not be there once the project is complete. Instead there will be designated entrances and exits with parking around the buildings.
“We did not want any vehicle to back out onto Red Arrow Highway,” Stack said. “That is a huge safety concern.”
It was also noted that striping for the trial road diet on U.S. 12 in New Buffalo Township (converting portions of the road to two traffic lanes and a center turn lane) could be in place by the end of the month.