Skip to main content

US-31 Draft Environmental Impact Statement

US-31 is a principal arterial on the National Highway System serving north/south traffic along the Lake Michigan shoreline. US-31 from South Bend, Indiana to the Mackinac Bridge is roughly 460 km (390 miles) and provides access to more than fifteen state parks, along with hundreds of tourist-oriented businesses and other recreational opportunities. US-31 is the primary commercial, commuter, and tourist route for both long distance travelers and local Holland to Muskegon trips. US-31 has been identified as part of Michigan's "Priority Commercial Network" and is considered a critical link in the local economy and county-wide development plans.

The section of US-31 under study extends from I-196 in Allegan County (City of Holland) to I-96 in Muskegon County (City of Norton Shores) and is approximately 48 km (30 miles) in length. US-31 serves the communities of Holland, Zeeland, West Olive, Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, Norton Shores, and Fruitport within the study area. The 1997 Average Daily Traffic (ADT) on US-31 varies from 11,500 to 50,000 in the Holland area, from 21,000 to 24,000 in the rural area between Holland and Grand Haven, from 28,000 to 58,500 in the Grand Haven area, and from 33,000 to 37,000 north of M-104.

The most recent available crash data for US-31 shows that the accident rates in various urban segments of US-31 (i.e., Holland and Grand Haven) were more than double the average rates for comparable facilities in the Grand Region (eight county area of West Michigan) and in the entire state. Forty-six (46) percent of all accidents occurred within the city limits of Grand Haven, and sixteen (16) percent of all accidents occurred in Holland. Congestion and high commercial traffic (12 percent of daily volume) are two factors contributing to the higher-than-average accident rates on US-31. In its effort to determine which alternative represents the best balance of congestion relief, improved safety, and minimization of impacts, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is evaluating the existing and future conditions associated with US-31 and the communities along its route from I-196 to I-96.

The existing and forecasted conditions for the US-31 study area indicate that without increasing the capacity or decreasing travel demand in urban areas and across the Grand River, mobility within Ottawa County will be negatively affected. The purpose of and need for the US-31 Study area is to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety for the traveling public. The purpose of this study is to identify and develop alternatives that will satisfy these needs.

US-31 provides the only structure over the Grand River between Lake Michigan and the 68th Avenue bridge in Eastmanville, a distance of approximately 32 km (20 miles). Recurring instances of mechanical and electrical failures have caused the existing bridge to close improperly, sometimes for hours. These failures cause a high degree of vehicular congestion within the entire urban area of Grand Haven, Ferrysburg and Spring Lake. The current incident management plan detours traffic east to 68th Avenue, a 64-kilometer (40-mile) trip for travelers on US-31. This lengthy detour is inconvenient to commuters and businesses along the US-31 corridor. Those industries in the study area which depend on "Just-In-Time" delivery are affected by bridge malfunctions.

The expected traffic growth on US-31 will degrade the current traffic problems further. Daily traffic volumes are projected to reach 83,000 vehicles at the Grand River bridge in Grand Haven by the year 2020. The existing 6-lane bascule bridge cannot accommodate this volume without continuous periods of congestion. The increased congestion will further affect accident potential and air quality.

In 1990, MDOT prepared a preliminary assessment of conditions within the study area. This report recommended further study of several alternatives for the existing US-31 alignment, and identified the possibility of an alternate by-pass alignment to relieve traffic congestion on existing US-31. The current US-31 Location Design Study was initiated in 1993. In 1994, the environmental portion of the project required for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was initiated.

In 1994, the project study area south of New Holland Street in Ottawa County was designated as a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). This new MPO, administered by the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), incorporates the following jurisdictions: City of Holland, City of Zeeland, and the Townships of Holland, Park, Laketown, Zeeland, and Fillmore. In late 1994, MDOT initiated a Major Investment Study (MIS). The MIS process was mandated under ISTEA as a tool for making better decisions within metropolitan areas. An MIS is required when a high-type highway improvement (such as a freeway) of substantial cost is expected to have a significant effect on capacity, traffic, or the level of service for a metropolitan area. During 1995, the MDOT and the MPO developed appropriate land use, traffic projections, and alternatives for consideration as part of the combined MIS/DEIS process. As a result of these previous actions, as well as through continuous public and agency input, this Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) has been prepared to evaluate the implementation of improvements to the US-31 corridor within the study area.

Succinctly stated, the purpose of and need for this project is to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety for the traveling public on and in the vicinity of US-31.

1.1 Alternatives

Various transportation alternatives have been studied as a means of meeting the transportation needs of US-31, between I-196 in northwestern Allegan County and I-96 in southwestern Muskegon County. Alternatives that have been studied are:

No-Action Alternative(rehabilitation of the existing facility with no expansion)

Low Capital Improvement Alternatives:

  • 2005 Transportation Systems Management (TSM) Interim Measures
  • 2020 TSM Alternative

Limited Access Freeway Alternatives:

  • Alternative A (Freeway on existing US-31)
  • Alternative F (Boulevard improvements on existing US-31 and new bypass freeway)
  • Alternative F1/F3 (Freeway on existing US-31 south of the Pigeon River, new freeway bypass north of the Pigeon River and boulevard improvements on existing US-31 north of the Pigeon River)
  • Alternative F/J1 (Boulevard improvements on existing US-31, freeway bypass of the Holland/Zeeland area, and freeway bypass of Grand Haven east of US-31)
  • Alternative J1 (Boulevard improvements on existing US-31 through Holland, a freeway bypass of the Holland/Zeeland area, and freeway on existing US-31 north of Holland)

Controlled Access Boulevard Alternatives:

  • Alternative P (Wide median boulevard on existing US-31 and a local Grand Haven bypass)
  • Alternative P1r (Narrow median boulevard on existing US-31 and a local Grand Haven bypass)

Uncontrolled Access Boulevard Alternative:

  • Alternative R (Narrow median boulevard on existing US-31 and a boulevard upgrade of existing 120th Avenue)

These alternatives are shown at the end of this handout and are briefly described below. Estimated construction costs, right-of-way, relocation costs, and wetland mitigation costs for each of the alternatives and their accompanying segments are shown in Table 1.3-1. In addition to the alternatives listed above, a fully-implemented transit alternative and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) applications were evaluated.

1.1.1 No-Action Alternative

The "No-Action" Alternative includes the reconstruction of existing US-31 in its present location with the same number of lanes. This alternativerequiresreconstruction because, according to MDOT's sufficiency figures, segments of US-31 located south of I-196BL in Holland and north of Taylor Avenue in Grand Haven are critically deficient in all areas of capacity, safety, surface condition, and base condition. According to MDOT pavement management evaluations, most of US-31 is expected to have zero remaining pavement life past the year 2000. The No-Action Alternative would not provide additional through lanes, or improved pedestrian/bicycle access across the Grand River. This would utilize the existing bascule bridge across the Grand River.

1.1.2 Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternatives

The Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternatives focus on those measures which maximize the capacity and improve traffic flow of the existing facility with minimal costs. The purpose of these alternatives is to determine if low-capital improvements can decrease congestion within the corridor for a desired design year. TSM improvements are primarily limited to changes that can be achieved with minimal right-of-way acquisition. TSM improvements typically include: modification of traffic signal timing, modification of lane-use control strategies, addition of exclusive turn lanes, removal of on-street parking, and construction of Park & Ride lots.

1.1.3 Limited Access Freeway Alternatives

The proposed freeway right-of-way varies from 92 meters (300 feet) to 110 meters (360 feet). For rural diamond interchanges, a right-of-way width of as much as 300 meters (1000 feet) would be required. The freeway would include two lanes in each direction. The design speed for the urban freeway would be 100 kilometers per hour (kph) (60 mph) and 120 kph (75 mph) for rural freeways.

Alternatives for a freeway include those which follow the existing alignment of US-31. Three alternatives fall in this category. Alternative A follows the existing route through both Holland and Grand Haven. Alternative J1 bypasses Holland/Zeeland and follows the existing route through Grand Haven. Alternative F1/F3 bypasses Grand Haven and follows the existing route through Holland. Service drives would be provided for these alternatives in the urban areas.

Two alternatives do not have a freeway following the existing route in Holland or Grand Haven. Alternative F and F/J1 bypass both urban areas.

1.1.4 Controlled-Access Boulevard Alternatives

Two on-alignment boulevard alternatives, one with a wide median, 13.3 meters (44 feet) to 18 meters (60 feet), and the other a narrow median, 5.4 meters (18 feet) to 13.3 meters (44 feet) are being considered. The right-of-way width for these alternatives vary from 43.4 meters (142 feet) to 61 meters (200 feet), except where overpasses or interchanges are required where it will widen to as much as 110 meters (360 feet). These alternatives provide for two lanes in each direction in rural areas and three lanes in each direction in urban areas. In addition, a local Grand Haven bypass is included in each of these alternatives. The right-of-way width for the local Grand Haven bypass varies from 43 meters (140 feet) to 74 meters (243 feet), except at overpasses where up to 110 meters (360 feet) are required. The bypass provides two lanes in each direction. The design speed for both US-31 boulevard alternatives and the bypass would be 80 kph (50 mph) in urban areas and 100 kph (60 mph) in rural areas.

1.1.5 Uncontrolled-Access Boulevard Alternative

In addition to the two on-alignment controlled-access boulevard alternatives, one off-alignment free-access boulevard alternative is being considered. The right-of-way for this alternative varies from 20 meters (66 feet) to 110 meters (360 feet) at the approaches to the Grand River crossing. This alternative varies from a five-lane roadway south of Port Sheldon Street, to a two-lane roadway between Port Sheldon Street and M-45 with left-turn lanes added where needed, to a four-lane boulevard from M-45 to Leonard Street, to a four-lane controlled-access boulevard north of Leonard Street to I-96. The design speed for this alternative would be 80 kph (50 mph) in urban areas and 100 kph (60 mph) in rural areas. This alternative also requires the reconstruction and widening of existing US-31.

1.2 Impacts

Impacts related to the No-Action, 2005 TSM Interim, 2020 TSM and Build alternatives are summarized below. Table 1.3-1 provides a summary of impacts.

1.2.1 Socioeconomic, Land Use, Farmland, and Recreation Resources

The most pronounced socioeconomic impact would be to community cohesion under the freeway alternatives. Several well defined urban and rural neighborhoods would be negatively impacted by the freeway alternatives. The most pronounced land use impact would be secondary impacts under any of the regional bypass alternatives (those bypassing Holland and Zeeland and/or those roughly following 120th Avenue). Potential exists for large scale conversion of agricultural land and natural areas to residential and other non-agricultural uses. The main impact on recreation resources for virtually all alternatives is noise.

1.2.2 Air Quality

Minimal air quality impacts would result from the implementation of the No-Action or any other alternative. Continued compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards is predicted. Implementation of Alternatives A (freeway on existing alignment) or J1 (freeway bypass of the Holland/Zeeland area) would have the greatest positive effect on air quality.

1.2.3 Noise

A total of eighty-eight noise sensitive areas (NSAs) were identified within the noise analysis corridor of the proposed US-31 alternatives. All noise sensitive sites within these NSAs are classified as FHWA Category B receptors, and include residences, parks, recreation areas, churches and schools. A Category B receptor is considered to be impacted if the noise level at the receptor is predicted to approach or exceed 67 decibels or to increase 10 decibels as a result of the proposed construction. Noise impacts by alternative are shown in Table 1.3-2.

1.2.4 Geological Resources

Regional geologic resources would not be impacted under the No-Action alternative. Potential impacts related to the Build alternatives include topographic alteration, groundwater contamination, and floodplain encroachment, all of which will be minimized through site specific mitigation practices.

1.2.5 Ecological Resources

Water Quality
All of the alternatives have the potential for construction related impacts, including the No-Action Alternative.

Aquatic Ecology
The No-Action Alternative would not impact aquatic communities. Long-term impacts to warm water aquatic resources are expected to be minimal under the Build alternatives. Coldwater systems (Pigeon River) would be more susceptible to impacts resulting from the construction, operation, and maintenance of the alternatives crossing the Pigeon River in the vicinity of 120th Avenue. Build alternative impacts may include decreased aquatic habitat and riparian corridors, increased sedimentation in spawning habitat, and decreased stream carrying capacity. Impacts to aquatic resources can be minimized through the incorporation of site specific design, construction, and mitigation planning.

The No-Action Alternative and 2005 TSM Interim Alternative would not directly impact wetland habitat. The Build alternatives would impact the estimated areas of wetlands listed in Table 1.3-3. Proposed wetland mitigation ratios to be used are 2:1 for forested wetlands, 1.5:1 for scrub shrub and 1.5:1 for emergent wetlands.

1.3 SECTION 4(f)/6(f)

Section 4(f) and 6(f) properties include historic sites, parks, recreation areas, and wildlife/wildfowl refuges. There are no Section 6(f) properties within the study area. A summary of the Section 4(f) properties follows.

Historic Properties

There are three historic sites eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) within the Area of Potential Effect associated with various alternatives. The three sites are the Boer Farm, Ottawa Station School, and the Southside Historic District in Grand Haven (briefly described under Section 1.4 below). Selection of any alternative would not substantially impair these sites

Parks, Recreation Areas, and Wildlife and Waterfowl Refuges

Twenty-four parks and recreation areas were evaluated that may be affected by the US-31 alternatives. Only four of these sites were determined to be impacted by the alternatives, either by direct impact or proximity impacts. These properties include the Rix Robinson Park in Grand Haven, William Montague Ferry Park in Ferrysburg, the Grand Haven State Game Area east of Grand Haven, and the planned Robinson Township Central Park. The proximity impacts would not substantially impair the use of the parks or recreation areas.

1.4 SECTION 106 - Protection of Historic Properties

Several historic architectural and archaeological surveys were conducted within the Area of Potential Effect (APE) associated with the project alternatives. Based on the archaeological surveys, the FHWA determined that three sites were eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Sites 20OT239 and 20OT240 are located within the APE associated with Alternatives P and P1r. Site 20OT3 is located within Alternatives F, F1/F3, F/J1 and R. The surveys also identified 13 sites which will require additional work in order to evaluate their National Register eligibility. FHWA and MDOT will consult with the SHPO on the eligibility of all sites.

The historic architectural surveys identified three properties as eligible for listing in the National Register. The Boer Farm is located in the APE associated with Alternatives F, F/J1, and J1. The Ottawa Station School at 11595 Stanton Street in Olive Township is within the APE associated with Alternatives F and F/J1. The Southside Historic District in Grand Haven is in the APE of the build alternatives, and is affected by all but the No-Action Alternative.

Based on MDOT's effects evaluation, the proposed alternatives F, F/J1 and J1 will have no adverse effect on the Boer Farm. The Michigan SHPO has yet to concur that the alternatives would have no adverse effect on this historic property. Once SHPO concurrence is obtained, the FHWA and MDOT will notify and submit documentation to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (Council) on this determination of no adverse effect, pursuant to 36 CFR 800.5 (d).

Based on MDOT's effects evaluation, Alternatives F and F/J1 will have an adverse effect on the Ottawa Station School, and that Alternatives A and J1 will have an adverse effect on the Southside Historic District. The SHPO has yet to concur that these alternatives would have an adverse effect on these historic properties. Once SHPO concurrence is obtained, the FHWA and MDOT will notify and consult with the Council to develop treatment measures that avoid or reduce these adverse effects. These treatment measures would also be developed in consultation with SHPO.

Areas of Controversy

Issues which have emerged during the development of the US-31 Location Design Study can generally be categorized by location.

There has been an expressed concern during the public involvement process that a freeway would create a visual barrier between the communities on either side of the freeway. Note that grade separation of the east-west streets would actually enhance east-west movement of pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles.

Grand Haven
Expressed concerns in Grand Haven included: creating a barrier between the neighborhoods on either side of existing US-31 with any of the freeway or boulevard alternatives; the number of commercial and residential displacements, local street access changes required for freeway or boulevard alternative; and changing the character of the community adjacent to the improvement.

Rural Areas
Rural communities have expressed concern about those alternatives which would locate all or a portion of US-31 improvements to the rural areas east of existing US-31. These communities are concerned about the loss of farmland, wetland impacts, closed and restricted local road access, secondary development impacts, property acquisition and the construction of a parallel road to US-31. These concerns are among those cited as reasons for improving US-31 on its present alignment.