Interchange improvement project addresses plans for growth and development through public/private partnerships
By Hanna Heiss
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in collaboration with the Gun Lake Tribe, teamed up for a major award-winning road construction project: US-131/M-179 Interchange Improvements, located in Allegan County, Michigan.
The interchange project is a 2023 American Public Works Association (APWA) Project of the Year, receiving the award in the transportation category for a project costing greater than $5 million but less than $25 million.
There had been no projects in the works or on the books in the coming five years for US-131/M-179 interchange improvements when the Gun Lake Tribe approached MDOT back in 2017. With a structurally sound bridge and limited funding, the need for improvements fell to other projects. The Gun Lake Tribe understood this but also understood the need for the interchange project due to their growth and plans for future development. The tribe provided the bulk of the funds, amounting to approximately $20 million of the necessary $23.7 million in funds for the project.
On board with engineering firms Fleis & VandenBrink and TetraTech, and builders Kamminga & Roodvoets and Anlaan, the project commenced.
Requiring significant earthwork and embankment preloading, the new interchange design is a single-point urban interchange (SPUI). The SPUI design minimizes impacts on the surrounding area and helps improve traffic flow, reducing congestion and emissions. Such design also allows the advantage of opposing left turn lanes to proceed simultaneously by the reduction of the two intersections into a single intersection over the free-flowing US-131.
Numerous stormwater best management practices were incorporated to improve the water quality of adjacent Allegan County drains within the project vicinity. A floodplain bench was built at one of the culvert extensions to help mitigate impacts to the nearby stream.
“The earthwork and bridge construction were certainly highlights of the project as they were built in multiple stages to maintain traffic,” wrote Project Manager Thomas Sabin, PE to American Infrastructure. “The new bridge is wider (~195 ft) than it is long (~135 ft) and includes a 12-foot non-motorized path on the south side that will eventually connect to a future trail crossing US-131.”
Though open to traffic one month ahead of schedule and delivered on budget, the interchange improvements team was faced with challenges. The COVID pandemic delayed the start of construction for the two-year project from the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021. Once construction commenced, the project was completed by October 2022. On a larger scale, during both the design and construction phases, the biggest challenge was maintaining interchange access throughout the entire process, requiring multiple stage changes throughout all the seasons of Michigan. “Ensuring the roadway was safe for the motorists and construction crews during our harsh, unpredictable winters always adds challenges,” said Sabin.
The team is particularly proud of the great partnership and coordination between all those involved. “During design, there was extensive coordination required between the Gun Lake Tribe, MDOT, Federal Highway Administration, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy, the Allegan County Road Commission and Allegan County Drain Office,” said Sabin.
Project contractors, subcontractors and the inspection team embraced the collaboration between the Gun Lake Tribe and MDOT during construction. This teamwork highlighted what the industry can accomplish through public/private partnerships.
“There are many things that have made this a once-in-a-career project, especially the generosity of the Gun Lake Tribe and the relationships that have developed over the whole process,” said Sabin. “It’s been five years in the making and we are proud to have this open to the public slightly ahead of schedule.”
For decades Michigan’s roads and bridges have been underfunded. Per capita,
Michigan has been ranked toward the bottom of the country when it comes to road and bridge investment. The new interchange not only helps with developmental goals, it also benefits all travelers of the area with a modernized bridge and interchange. The generosity of the Gun Lake Tribe is unprecedented and very much appreciated by the community and those involved.
“The Gun Lake Tribe is in the process of expanding water and wastewater facilities on our lands,” wrote the Gun Lake Tribe Administration Governmental Affairs Officer to American Infrastructure. “This will allow us to offer more jobs and further economic growth to the area. All of this is possible because of the new interchange.”
Hanna Heiss is senior editor at American Infrastructure. She may be reached at email@example.com.