Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bridge work

On Blue Star Highway in Douglas looking north.

The cars started backing up yesterday afternoon on the Blue Star Highway bridge between Saugatuck and Douglas as work began to repair the span over the Kalamazoo River.

Michigan Department of Transportation crews placed concrete barriers on the bridge, reducing it to one lane controlled by traffic lights at both ends of the construction area. Work will continue through winter.

This was no surprise to local drivers. The plan has been in the news for almost 2 years. Last week, lighted warning signs appeared on both sides of the bridge telling drivers what was ahead.

“It’s inconvenient and likely to stay inconvenient for quite a while,” said Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere.

What is a surprise was how difficult it is to get from Main Street in Douglas across the bridge. The traffic lights are positioned so Main Street traffic can't see them. LeFevere will be talking with MDOT officials about making that intersection safer — and that might mean closing Main Street.


In Saugatuck looking south.
Signs out on I-196 give drivers good advice about avoiding the bottleneck: If you're going to Saugatuck, take Exit 41. If you're going to Douglas, take Exit 36.

It's obvious now why Saugatuck pushed MDOT so hard to delay the work on I-196. MDOT wanted to close the northbound Exit 41 ramp and funnel all the traffic to Blue Star Highway and over the bridge while it was still just one lane. A strong letter and support from the Douglas council helped persuade the state to delay that exit closure until the local bridge work is done.

Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, who got caught in the delays yesterday as well, said local drivers will quickly learn to avoid the river crossing.

"People are pretty smart," he said.

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