Niles-Buchanan-Cass Area Road Project Priorities Under Discussion

If you want to have your voice heard regarding which potential road projects in the Niles-Buchanan-Cass corridor are undertaken over the next several years, time will be of the essence this month.

The Niles-Buchanan-Cass Area Transportation Study for 2020 – 2023 issued a call for federal aid eligible road projects and the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission received recommendations from local municipalities and government leaders. With about $2.3-million headed through the pipeline, the commission got total funding requests of almost twice that amount and have to make decisions along the way.

The Niles-Buchanan-Cass Cities Area Transportation Study (NATS) is allocated Federal Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) funding to award to road or transit agencies within its boundaries. A Call for Projects is made every three years to the road and transit agencies in NATS to utilize those funds, with the current call for projects designated for the time frame from 2020-to-2023.

Over the next four years NATS will receive approximately $2.3 million in STBG funds, which must be used on federal aid eligible roads or for transit capital projects.

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The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission reports that 15 applications were submitted with a total funding request of approximately $4.1 million. As a result, a project review committee has chosen projects to be recommended for approval at the NATS meeting on January 22, 2019. That review committee was appointed by NATS and is made up of engineers and elected officials.

Cities and Villages in the study area were allowed to submit requests, including the City of Buchanan, the City of Niles, and the Village of Edwardsburg. Others allowed to submit requests included the Berrien County Road Department which maintains roads for  Buchanan Charter Township, Niles Charter Township, and Bertrand Township which maintains roads for Howard Township, Mason township, Milton Township, and Ontwa Township.

The  Niles Dial A Ride transit system was also eligible to submit requests for funding in the cycle.

The NATS Policy committee approved a scoring system for projects which included the following criteria:

  • Road condition
  • Traffic volume
  • The expected useful life of the project
  • Bicycle or pedestrian accommodation
  • Safety improvements

Points were also awarded for local agencies planning process including if the agency has an asset management plan and if they are coordinating road work with sewer, water or utility work.

The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, which serves as staff to NATS, used the approved scoring system to rank the 15 applications and delivered the results to the project review committee which met on December 18, 2018.

The review committee selected 8 projects to submit to the NATS Technical and policy Committees for final approval on Tuesday January 22, 2019 at 1:30 pm. The meeting will be held at the Niles District Library, located at 620 E Main St in Niles.  Once selected, further analysis will continue until May. The public is encouraged to comment on any of the proposed projects any time between now and May 15th, though you are encouraged to make an immediate review of the projects prior to the January 22nd meeting.

Proposed projects can be found on the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission website by clicking this link:

https://www.swmpc.org/natstip.asp

These were some of higher scoring projects:

  • Bertrand Road in Niles Township: This project continues resurfacing done on Bertrand roads in previous years and follows Berrien County’s asset management plan.
  • Front Street in The City of Buchanan: This project improves safety, and includes pedestrian features. They will also be coordinating this project with replacement of a water main.

Local priorities outweighed the scores, inasmuch as the selection committee, made up of the local agencies (road commission, municipalities, township), were allowed to each identify their highest priority project. Certain projects that scored poorly were still chosen as a local priority project. Mason Street was a lower scoring project (due to a low traffic volume, and the agency not following an asset management plan), but was identified as a local priority by the Cass County Road Commission.

For better understanding, Useful Life (also known as remaining service life or RSL) is a way to measure the effectiveness of a road treatment based on how many years until the road returns back to its current condition.  Depending on the current surface of the road, the drainage and the treatment, each proposed road project can have a useful life between 3-and-25 years. That's why it's important to consider long-term effects of infrastructure such as sewer, water, utilities, streetscaping, and pedestrian and bicycle elements. If a project is a 15-year fix, the community is most likely locked in to the infrastructure under and around the road for that time frame.

The public can be involved in these decisions in various ways. The process varies by municipality in public outreach regarding the 15 proposed projects submitted for the call the projects. Once the projects are selected and brought into the planning process the public comment on projects is much more defined. If you're curious about why your community chose to submit certain projects, you are encouraged to contact your local elected officials.

These are some key dates for public review:

  • The online comment form is available to comment on projects on SWMPC’s website.
  • Tuesday, January 22, 2019: NATS Technical and Policy Committee Meeting at 1:30 pm at Niles District Library 620 E Main St. Niles, MI 49120.
  • Anytime: Email Brandon Kovnat (email: kovnatb@swmpc.org) or Kim Gallagher  (gallagherk@swmpc.org)
  • SWMPC Transportation staff is always available to answer any questions about projects or can point people in the right directions for answers.