Friday, June 1, 2012

The road of changes

Thursday morning, May 31, dawns in Douglas. The Keewatin is still in view.

Driving through Saugatuck and Douglas is now a changed — and changing — experience.

First, the 350-foot steamship Keewatin is gone. Crews from King Co. of Holland towed the historic ship, once the pride of the Canadian Pacific Railway, from its longtime home on land owned by R.J. Peterson, owner of Tower Marina.

The ship’s absence will take some time getting used to for drivers along Blue Star Highway who saw the ship through summer and winter, sun and storms.

The spot where the Keewatin rested just three hours before on Thursday.

To remove the ship, a channel had to be dredged through the shallow Kalamazoo Lake. The spoils pond remains on the property, visible from Blue Star Highway. Eventually, much of that is planned to be graded for a hill reaching from the edge of Blue Star Highway toward the lake. Peterson plans to keep a smaller spoils area, but is awaiting approval from the state because his plan impacts nearby wetlands.

Second, the Blue Star Highway bridge over the Kalamazoo River is now open for two-way traffic. After more than seven months of it being a single lane regulated by a traffic light, drivers can again travel freely over the span.

Work isn’t done yet. Lighting will change and, most important for drivers, the lane configuration will be different in about a month. The once-four-lane road will be re-striped to be three lanes — one northbound, one southbound and one center turn lane. There will be expanded bicycle and pedestrian areas as well.

Third, the people who prefer the fast lane will have to slow down on I-196 from the Douglas ramps to the U.S. 31 split.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has already begun work on a total repair of the northbound lanes of I-196. Traffic will be slowed in one lane and detoured into the southbound lane.

Work is already under way and will continue through the summer.

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