City, DOT at impasse over frontage road pact

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Rather than a Catch-22, call it a Catch-State 23.

The city and state Department of Transportation officials remain at loggerheads over an agreement for a future frontage road from State 57 to State 67 north of state 23.

The Public Works and Utilities Committee of the City Council kicked the can down the road Tuesday after a report from City Administrator Brian Yerges and Public Works Director Bill Immich.

Immich explained that the DOT is proposing a new memorandum of understanding between itself and the city, town and county to replace the 1997 agreement which called for the frontage road to be completely south of State 23 on the city’s north side when State 23 is upgraded to freeway status at a yet-to-be-determined date.

“We would love to stick with our existing memo, but the DOT said they don’t think it’s binding and they asked us to hash out a new agreement,” Immich related.

The sticking point is the DOT’s insistence on keeping open an option for a northern route for the frontage road west of County O, to run north on County OJ, west to County C and south back to State 23.

“From Marshall’s to 57 we do agree,” Immich noted. “Someday, Fairview and Pleasant View (intersections with State 23) will be closed and there will be an overpass at (County) E, and the Kiley Way frontage road will be extended to Fairview.”

The final language of the proposal from the DOT would put off the decision on a route to continue the frontage road to an unspecified future point in time, Immich added.

Both the town of Plymouth and the County Board Transportation Committee have gone on record earlier this year supporting the south route for the frontage road.

While Immich said he would support signing the DOT’s proposed new agreement, as it still leaves the south frontage road route on the table, Yerges disagreed.

“I just don’t see a real benefit, what the point of signing this is,” Yerges said of the DOT’s draft new agreement.

“My thinking is that at least we would have it written down where we are, that we all acknowledge this,” Immich countered. “We have to work with the DOT, whether we get along with them or not. I don’t know how they’d react if we didn’t sign this, although I’m not disagreeing that there is not a huge benefit,” to the new agreement.

“They should be honoring the 1997 agreement,” committee chair Jackie Jarvis said of the DOT. “They shouldn’t be doing this. Should we be digging in our heels on this?”

“There are legal options, but whether we’d be successful or not, I don’t know,” Yerges admitted.

Alderperson Jim Sedlacek also noted that a legal challenge would cost the city money.

Alderperson Charles Hansen noted that, in addition to diverting traffic out of the city and away from potential future development in the city, the northern route would be longer and thus increase energy consumption and emissions from vehicles taking the route.

Jarvis wondered how effective the northern route would be in alleviating traffic pressure on Eastern Avenue and other eastwest arterials in the city, as opposed to the southern route.

She questioned whether local legislators have been involved in resolving the issue.

“From a city staff perspective, we feel we’ve done all we can with our local legislators,” Yerges answered.

He suggested it might be time for council members and the mayor to begin lobbying more intensely on the issue and Jarvis agreed.

She proposed sending the issue to a Committee of the Whole meeting of the council for more discussion and perhaps recruiting local business and industry leaders to weigh in on the issue with the DOT and local legislators. “Let’s see if we can mobilize some alternative ways to generate some political pressure on our local legislators.”

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