NEW BUFFALO — A large section of U.S. 12 through New Buffalo Township will be placed on a “road diet” in 2021.  

More than 100 attended a Michigan Department of Transportation Open House for a crash course on what this four-to-three-lane reduction plan will mean to local traffic patterns.

The late afternoon open house on Wednesday, Nov. 6, was held in the New Buffalo Area Schools cafeteria and included a brief formal presentation by Amy Lipset, MDOT’s Southwest Michigan regional planning manager. No questions were taken following the approximately 15-minute presentation but attendees were encouraged to visit with MDOT personnel manning tables in the lobby before and after Lipset’s talk, which was given twice.

The “road diet” under discussion applies to the $2.4 million U.S. 12 resurfacing project scheduled for 2021 from the Indiana State Line to the beginning of Red Arrow Highway (at the light where U.S. 12 turns east to head to Three Oaks). Plans call for reducing U.S. 12 from four to three lanes, including a center left turn lane, except for the section through the City of New Buffalo’s main business district between Mayhew Street (before Oink’s) and Wilson Street (New Buffalo Bill’s BBQ).

According to the MDOT, the goal of the conversion is to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and other nonmotorized traffic. 

 cited several traffic studies and safety statistics to support the “road diet” concept.

Locally, traffic volume studies conducted in May, July and August 2019 during I-94 construction showed the following average daily vehicle volumes: state line to New Buffalo City limits, 10,550 vehicles; City of New Buffalo, 13,050 vehicles, and New Buffalo City limits to Red Arrow Highway, 12,100. Lipset said there were six I-94 emergency closings between 2015-2018 during which traffic was rerouted onto U.S. 12. During the same period, there were 10 double lane I-94 closures. She said there were no total closures in both directions at the same time. The average closure time was two hours and 47 minutes, with the shortest lasting 20 minutes and the longest lasting 16 hours and 18 minutes.

Among the benefits of “road diets” cited by Lipset were: a 19 to 47 percent reduction in overall crashes; reduced operating speed; elimination of speed differential for more consistent traffic flows; elimination of weaving in and out of traffic lanes at high speeds, and more comfortable entrances onto U.S. 12 from side streets since there are fewer lanes to cross. Also, emergency responders can use the turn lane for safer, faster responses.

The presentation included several illustrations of the types of crashes that are avoided or reduced with a center left turn lane. Lipset also said pedestrian safety is enhanced with wider shoulders, fewer lanes to cross and potential for a “refuge island” in the center.

Neither New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit nor City of New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV had any comment on the plan following the presentation, but O’Donnell did say it would be a topic for discussion at the next City Council meeting.

New Buffalo Business Association President Katie Maloney expressed her support of the plan citing improved road and safety conditions, lower speed limits, increased walkability, safer crosswalks and opening a route for bike paths.

Among those attending were local supporters of the Marquette Greenway, the proposed 58-mile non-motorized trail linking Chicago and New Buffalo, and also the proposed linear park linking Bridgman and New Buffalo under discussion by Berrien County.

“This plan gives us the opportunity for a path between highway and the railroad tracks for the Michigan portion of the Marquette Greenway. Right now we don’t have a path,” said Marcy Hamilton, Southwest Michigan Planning Commission deputy executive director, who has been working on the development of the Michigan portion of the Marquette Greenway for 10 years.

Echoing this support was Arnie Feinberg, president of Friends of Harbor Country Trails, who pointed out the popularity of bicycling among visitors and residents of the area and the support cyclists contribute to the local economy. Lake Township Treasurer Bob Clark said he was interested in MDOT’s plans since the township has been following the development of the county’s linear park plan and likes the concept of linking Bridgman with the New Buffalo area.

One repeated comment from attendees was the fact that it was a “done deal” and the wish that there had been time for an open questions and answers session that all could share.

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