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US-131 PEL Study
What is a PEL study?
Planning and environment linkages (PEL) represents a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process. It helps to identify issues early in the planning process, provides flexibility and can shorten the formal environmental review process, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), for future construction phases within the PEL study area.
Why was this segment of US-131 selected as part of a PEL study?
During the original I-96 and US-131 PEL study, the section of US-131 between M-11 (28th Street) and Wealthy Street was identified as a focus area by MDOT, local stakeholders, and the public. In addition, three other locations were identified for further study:
- The US-131/100th Street interchange in Byron Township: completed in fall 2020.
- I-96 at Fruit Ridge Avenue in Walker: construction planned for 2024/2025.
- US-131 active traffic management (ATM) from I-96 to Post Drive: construction planned in 2026/2027
- ATM uses Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technology to control traffic using modified shoulders during peak travel periods, incidents, etc.
This segment of US-131 has the highest volumes of any roadway in Michigan outside of Metro Detroit and still retains the original pavement and bridges built in the early 1960s. This segment also has frequent congestion, delays and incidents that affect its operation and overall mobility for users. As Metro Grand Rapids and west Michigan continue to grow, it is critical that this section of US-131 have an improvement plan established to ensure the reliable, safe and efficient movement of people and goods in this area. Based on the age of this facility, major preservation activities for the existing US-131 roadway and bridges in the PEL study segment will need to be undertaken soon. The goal of the PEL study is to identify operational and safety improvements that can be coordinated with future preservation projects.
When is the study expected to be completed?
There are three main phases to the US-131 PEL study:
- Develop purpose and need statements and evaluation criteria for draft alternatives (survey closed in February 2021)
- Develop and evaluate draft alternatives (fall 2022 - winter 2023)
- Select acceptable alternative(s) (late 2023 - early 2024, tentative)
All three study phases will include public and stakeholder involvement opportunities. After the acceptable alternative(s) are selected, this will be included in an official US-131 PEL study report, which is provided to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). MDOT intends to complete this report in winter 2023-2024. Implementing these improvements will depend on statewide priorities and funding levels.
How can I find out more information about the US-131 PEL study and stay current on the study process?
MDOT has a project website for the US-131 PEL study at www.Michigan.gov/US-131PEL. Resources include:
- Purpose and need statements
- Project schedule and updates
- Public outreach and meeting materials
The website also includes a contact form for submitting questions directly to MDOT at any time during the study process. The website is the official location where updates are provided regarding the study.
Is the PEL study the only forum for public engagement for future work on this corridor?
The PEL study is not the only public engagement forum for future work in this corridor. After completion of the PEL study, there will be additional opportunities for comment during the formal NEPA environmental, project development and building phases. Immediately following completion of the PEL report, MDOT and the City of Grand Rapids will begin an engineering review of the segment between Hall Street and Wealthy/Cherry streets, using grant funds from the state Legislature. Options and impacts will be assessed and there will be additional opportunities for public involvement. At this time, there is no schedule for construction of major improvements beyond the PEL study.
How can I comment on a specific design or improvement option, such as bridge aesthetics or interchange types?
At this phase of the study, MDOT is looking at what interchanges will remain open and what new local road connections can possibly be included with any future project(s), along with other high-level corridor needs (preservation, safety improvements, etc.). Future phases after the conclusion of the PEL study, subsequent engineering assessments, and in the NEPA review and project(s) design, can include opportunities to consider some specific designs modifications. However, designs may or may not be feasible due to operational and funding limitations.
Infrastructure: Will MDOT be straightening out the S-curve?
The S-curve between Wealthy Street and Pearl Street carrying US-131 over the Grand River and various local roads was rebuilt in 2000 to address structural deterioration issues. With standard maintenance practices, the bridges in this section that make up a majority of the S-curve are expected to remain safely in service for at least another 50 years.
As a result, for the purposes of the PEL study, it is assumed that the S-curve will remain in place as currently built. Any potential future efforts to “straighten” the S-curve would require extensive study, as it would likely involve the demolition of the existing structures, extensive purchase of private and public property, displacement of homes and businesses, and the resulting mitigation efforts to rectify the displacement of those affected and environmental impacts.
Infrastructure: Will MDOT be adding travel lanes? Would that solve the traffic congestion in the corridor?
Given the high levels of traffic and congestion in this segment, MDOT will be examining ways to add operational capacity to the corridor. This could potentially be accomplished through a combination of adding through-lanes, adding merge/weave lanes between interchange ramps, changing ramp configurations, and adding widened shoulders. MDOT will focus on not only meeting the current capacity needs but also the anticipated needs over a longer-term time horizon (20-plus years). Data trends and forecasts show that the US-131 corridor will continue to be a high-demand vehicular travel corridor, especially as growth continues in and around Grand Rapids. Based on further data analysis and funding availability, various operational improvements to the mainline will be required to ensure a safe and reliable system.
Infrastructure: Could MDOT remove Hynes Avenue on the east side of US-131 between Burton Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Street (Franklin Street)?
Hynes Avenue serves as a local access drive for businesses and industries between the existing railroad freight yard and US-131. Future improvements must consider reasonable access for these businesses and industries, access to and from US-131, and access to other east-west streets (Hall Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Street (Franklin Street), etc.). Modifications will be considered with the PEL study, where feasible.
Infrastructure: Has MDOT considered closing the interchanges that cause the biggest issues?
Design, placement and potential removal of interchanges will be examined during the draft alternatives development phase. Careful consideration will be needed when examining the impacts of partial or full interchange closures. Affected traffic may divert to another nearby interchange within the PEL study corridor that is not operationally capable of facilitating the increase in traffic, along with substantial impacts on local streets. Freeway access needs will need to be balanced with safe traffic operations.
Infrastructure: Will MDOT be lengthening on and off ramps at interchanges?
Modernizing the interchanges along US-131 to help improve their safe operations is expected to be a primary focus of the PEL study. One element of this will be to provide longer ramps that prevent the queuing at these interchanges from impeding the flow of traffic along US-131 during peak commuting times. The potential extension (and relocation) of ramps will be evaluated to determine any resulting impacts on adjacent properties and consider traffic safety.
Traffic Operations: Can MDOT buy the railroad freight yard on the east side of the freeway to add more room for mobility improvements on US-131?
The purchase of the railroad freight yard would be cost prohibitive, along with the mitigation efforts for the displaced railroad. MDOT, local agencies, and the railroad would be required to identify an alternative site for the railroad freight yard, which would impact other areas of the region and may not be environmentally and/or economically feasible. MDOT may discuss with the railroad the feasibility of modifications to the existing freight yard as long as the operational needs of the railroad can be accommodated.
In addition, the railroad provides significant service within the area and regionally. Any efforts to remove the railroad freight yard may result in more truck traffic within the area and may also have implications on businesses that rely on the railroad.
Traffic Operations: Will MDOT consider creating a bypass of the downtown for travelers not destined for Grand Rapids or Wyoming, or other alternatives?
Generally, MDOT’s statewide focus is on preserving existing state highways and bridges. Based on recent and historical traffic counts and travel monitoring data, the majority of trips on US-131 are destined to Grand Rapids or Wyoming. A bypass would not serve most of the traffic using US-131, would have impacts of its own, and would be cost prohibitive; it is also beyond the scope of this study. Even if a bypass option is considered, US-131 would remain in place to provide access to Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Alternatives will be identified and evaluated in later stages of the PEL study process.
Traffic Operations: Will MDOT consider tolling this segment of US-131?
Tolling on state freeways is currently being assessed at a statewide level, as required by Michigan Public Act 140 of 2020. Any proposed improvements will not preclude future tolling options, where possible.
Traffic Operations: Could MDOT limit truck travel during rush hour and peak periods?
Travel restrictions may be considered as an option further into the study process. However, any restrictions on traffic may be subject to local, state, and federal laws, regulations, and policies. In addition, alternative access and mobility must be identified if restrictions on modes are implemented. In addition, through various stakeholder meetings with freight and logistic groups and businesses in and around US-131, most of the longer distance truck traffic is active during off-peak periods; however, delivery trucks need to operate during the day, and it is important to ensure safe and reliable mobility. US-131 is a vital north-south corridor that serves businesses and industries in west Michigan. Reliable, safe and efficient mobility is essential for these businesses to support economic vitality in the area. Any restrictions on US-131 truck traffic will have impacts on other local and state routes.
Traffic Operations: Why doesn’t MDOT limit truck traffic in adjacent neighborhoods or on local roads?
MDOT does not have the legal authority to limit trucks in adjacent neighborhoods. This is a local government responsibility. The state trunkline system that MDOT has authority over includes routes that generally begin with I (Interstate), US (US highway) and M (Michigan highway). All other roads are not under the legal authority of MDOT. Improving freeway operations and safety may have the indirect benefit of encouraging truck traffic to use the freeway and not divert onto local streets.
For more information on what highways MDOT has responsibility over, please visit the following links:
Traffic Operations: Can MDOT make improvements to local roads, including adjusting traffic signal timing, removing turning prohibitions, or other changes to maximize mobility throughout the area?
Please see previous question. MDOT does not have legal authority to change road operations, function, or other aspects that are not exclusively a state trunkline highway (I, US or M routes). However, it is MDOT’s intent to ensure access to and from US-131 and that the local road system can operate to the best extent practicable. This includes partnering with local agencies responsible for overseeing the local roads adjacent and connecting to US-131.
Traffic Operations: Will MDOT consider high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or express lanes?
Both options may be considered during the later phases of the US-131 PEL study. Relatively speaking, the US-131 PEL segment is short and inclusion of either HOV and/or express lanes may have minimal benefits without similar improvements made elsewhere along the corridor. Further analysis, adjacent property impacts, and statewide policies on tolling would need to be considered for these options.
Traffic Operations: Have traffic volumes decreased due to work-from-home restrictions and resulting telecommuting options?
Generally, statewide traffic volumes dropped significantly (50-60 percent) during spring and early summer 2020 when stay-at-home requirements were in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the lifting of the stay-at-home requirements in spring 2021, traffic volumes have continued to rebound near, at, or above pre-pandemic levels. The segment of US-131 that is part of this PEL study is no different. Daily traffic volumes have remained at an annual average of around 120,000 vehicles per day (VPD) in 2022, with fluctuations ranging to as high as 133,500 VPD as recently as September 2023. The west Michigan area, and Grand Rapids itself, is anticipated to continue to grow over the next several years, in both employment and population, which will result in additional traffic generated. This is supported by the most recent decennial census (2020) and the most recent American Community Survey (ACS). Telecommuting opportunities may slow the growth of traffic using US-131 but will likely not change the overall growth in west Michigan and resulting mobility demands on the existing system.
Cost of Investment and Funding: Will MDOT be making improvements on roads other than US-131?
MDOT does not have jurisdictional authority on local roadways or other mobility networks outside of US-131, the existing US-131 interchanges, and Hynes Avenue. MDOT’s jurisdiction generally includes routes that begins with I, US and M. Future improvements outside of MDOT’s jurisdiction, including bike paths, sidewalks and crossings within the study area, will also be considered in future phases of the US-131 PEL study and subsequent phases and require coordination with the responsible local agencies.
Cost of Investment and Funding: Did MDOT consider investing in transit or light-rail options rather than rebuilding US-131?
A balanced approach to transportation service is needed along major corridors like US-131 to attempt to accommodate multiple travel options and demand. To help with this approach, MDOT provided matching funds for the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, which parallels US-131 on Division Avenue. MDOT also provides ongoing state funding for BRT operations. AMTRAK and the Rapid Central stations are located adjacent to US-131 at Wealthy Street and provide other mobility options. However, US-131 traffic volumes have continued to increase, even with the BRT service and adjacent mobility services. Improvements to US-131 are needed to address growing traffic volumes and will not preclude future transit options on the freeway itself or parallel local routes. Federal and state transportation funds also have some legal limitations on how funds can be spent.
Cost of Investment and Funding: Did MDOT consider using the 2020 Rebuilding Michigan Bond Program funds to make improvements to US-131?
The Rebuilding Michigan program ("bonding") was established to provide long-term improvements to existing MDOT facilities, primarily freeways in large urban areas in Michigan, which required little to no operational changes, unless previously identified and environmentally cleared. Due to the substantial growth of the west Michigan area, age of the freeway infrastructure, importance of this corridor for regional mobility, and public and stakeholder feedback, further study was needed before a specific project was identified for US-131 in the PEL study area. However, the Rebuilding Michigan program will provide funding to rebuild US-131 from about the Allegan/Kent county line north to 76th Street beginning in 2024.
Cost of Investment and Funding: When will MDOT begin construction on a project?
Any potential project(s) resulting from the PEL study will be required to go through the formal NEPA review process. Funding commitments are required upon entering a formal NEPA review. Once completed, MDOT can begin the development phase of any subsequent project(s) and begin construction. The NEPA and project development phases can range anywhere from three to five years or longer. However, funding needs to be identified to proceed into phases after the PEL study. No funding is currently available.
Cost of Investment and Funding: What strategy will MDOT use to rebuild US-131 once funding and a project has been identified?
Specific construction strategies will be considered when the acceptable alternative(s) is identified toward the conclusion of the PEL study and subsequent studies and engineering analysis. Staging of construction and associated traffic impacts will be assessed during the NEPA process and during the development phase of the project(s). At this time, there is no identified funding for any major project on US-131 in this segment, so construction strategies are not being assessed in depth. Based on condition needs, rebuilding various sections of this segment over a period of time, possibly using different sources of funding, may be a cost-effective strategy over the long-term.
Cost of Investment and Funding: Why is there construction work planned on US-131 over the next several years and is it resulting from the outcomes of US-131 PEL?
Detailed analysis and engineering on the acceptable alternative(s) will still need to be pursued after the completion of the US-131 PEL study phase. This process has been provided the opportunity to advance with funding made possible by a grant from the state Legislature, which will begin immediately after the PEL study is finalized. However, funding for major reconstruction and improvements is not committed at this time. Most of the US-131 freeway in this segment is the original pavement and bridges that were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s and are beginning to reach their useful service life. Until funding is available to make investments into larger improvements as identified in the PEL and subsequent planning activities, MDOT will need to repair the existing infrastructure as conditions warrant, based on available funding.
Upcoming preservation projects on US-131 in this area include the following:
- US-131 bridge repairs over Plaster Creek (south of Burton Street): spring 2024
- US-131 concreate pavement repairs from M-11 (28th Street) to Pearl Street: spring 2024
- US-131 S-curve (Wealthy Street to Pearl Street), multiple preservation projects:
- Decorative freeway lighting replacement: 2025-2026
- Minor bridge deck and railing work: 2028-2029
- Martin Luther King Jr. Street (Franklin Street) bridge replacement east of US-131: 2025-2027
Safety: In addition to larger infrastructure reconstruction efforts, will MDOT be considering smaller scale safety and operational improvements?
Over the past 15 to 20 years, MDOT has invested in several different safety and operational improvements in Kent County. These improvements include installing 27 dynamic message signs (DMS) and more than 60 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. There is nearly end-to-end camera coverage of US-131 and several strategically placed DMS throughout the area for notifying motorists of traffic impacts, such as congestion, incidents or work zone lane closures.
In 2020, MDOT installed two wrong-way driver detection systems on northbound US-131 as a pilot for measuring the effectiveness and accuracy of these devices to improve safety. These systems detect drivers traveling southbound in the northbound lanes of US-131, send a video clip to the MDOT West Michigan Traffic Operations Center (WMTOC) for verification, and activate flashing LED wrong-way signs to alert the wrong-way driver. MDOT intends to expand on these locations at various interchanges along US-131 in greater Metro Grand Rapids.
In late fall 2022, MDOT launched Safety Service Patrol operations for freeways in Kent County, including most of US-131. This service will provide key support for traffic incident management responders on scene to provide safe, quick clearance of incidents, disabled vehicles, and debris from the roadway, and offer assistance to motorists to get them safely on their way. This helps reduce congestion and secondary crashes.
Other improvements include implementing a queue warning system on US-131 in and around the greater Grand Rapids area, which is planned in 2024. This system typically uses a type of vehicle detection for monitoring traffic volumes and speed, and automatically activates warning signs to inform motorists of stopped or slow traffic ahead. The goal of this system is to reduce rear-end crashes that occur when drivers are surprised by sudden slowdowns or stopped traffic.
Incorporating innovative ITS solutions, along with improvements to US-131, will ensure a reliable, safe, and modern mobility network.
Please refer to the question below for information regarding feasibility of an ATM/flex lane option in this section of US-131.
Safety: Could MDOT lower the speed limit along this segment of US-131?
Speed limits on roadways in Michigan are established primarily by MCL 257.628 of the Michigan Vehicle Code. State law requires that MDOT and the Michigan State Police jointly set speed limits that are based on the 85th percentile speed, which is the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers are currently driving in a given section of roadway. For example, if 85 percent of drivers on a section of road are driving 55 mph or less, the 85th percentile speed would be 55.
Michigan uses this methodology because it is the national standard for setting speed limits, recognizing that the great majority of drivers instinctively drive at a speed that is safe and comfortable based on the roadway design and other factors. This also results in fewer conflicts between vehicles, which lead to unsafe actions such as tailgating and improper passing.
Safety: Will MDOT consider ATM/flex lane options?
ATM, also referred to as flex lanes, is a type of traffic management system that allows vehicles to use enhanced shoulders of a freeway during peak travel times or for other identified situations to improve mobility and safety. Examples include US-23 north of Ann Arbor and a planned system on US-131 between I-96 and Post Drive north of Grand Rapids.
ATM requires that freeway shoulders meet certain standards, such as 11- to 12-foot shoulder widths, to safely accommodate traffic when the lane is open. Motorists are informed that these flex lanes can be used via lane control signs over the roadway, which are strategically placed throughout the freeway segment with flex lanes. Flex lanes may also be used for other purposes, such as partial closures or incident management. The system is operated by a central controller, such as the MDOT WMTOC. Along with the section of US-131 north of Grand Rapids, MDOT has analyzed possible implementation of ATM strategies for the rest of the US-131 corridor in the greater Grand Rapids area, including sections of the PEL study. This includes the traditional flex lane concept, as well as other options, such as freeway ramp metering. However, these options are limited or not feasible in the US-131 PEL study segment due to current geometric constraints, such as limited shoulder widths, accessibility, etc. Future improvements to this segment of the corridor will consider these options and attempt to not preclude incorporation of these strategies during later phases of the PEL study process.
For more information about ITS, the MDOT WMTOC, device locations, and to review performance and other related reports, please visit the MDOT WMTOC webpage at www.Michigan.gov/WMTOC.
Safety: Can MDOT add more signs and pavement markings to direct motorists on US-131 and/or local roads?
Pavement markings and signs are among several components of any transportation facility to provide a safe, reliable and efficient system. Pavement markings, sign placement, designs, frequency, etc., are required to comply with the National Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the Michigan MUTCD (MMUTCD). 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 655, the Michigan Vehicle Code (Section 257.608), and various other federal and state laws, regulations, and policies require consistent pavement markings and signs for all public roadways. Local ordinances may also affect pavement marking and sign standards.
MDOT has and continues to update the MMUTCD and incorporate changes based on best practices and studies. Currently, MDOT is updating signs on US-131 in Wyoming and Grand Rapids to safely guide motorists. This includes installing enhanced wrong-way signs and associated delineation at various ramps along US-131 to warn drivers of entering the freeway from the wrong direction. MDOT will continue to partner with local agencies responsible for overseeing local roads to ensure consistent wayfinding, access and mobility around the area.
Safety: Will MDOT be improving or adding shoulders or an emergency lane for first responders and incident management?
Yes, providing improved shoulders along the freeway is a modern design standard and helps with managing traffic and responding to safety incidents. Many of the congestion issues in the corridor are related to safety incidents; having improved shoulders would allow for the impacts of these events to be minimized. Shoulders are also valuable for maintenance work and future improvement projects to maintain safe traffic flow.