TwinCATS Issues Call for Projects to Establish Highest Priority Road Fixes in SJ-BH

The organization that largely oversees road projects in the immediate St. Joseph-Benton Harbor metropolitan area and makes determinations regarding funding priorities has issued their traditional “Call for Projects,” which happens every three years, to determine which roads will get priority dollars in the years from 2020 through 2023.

The Twin Cities Area Transportation Study (TwinCATS) 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 TwinCATS to utilize those funds; with the current call for projects targeted for 2020-2023. Over the next four years TwinCATS will receive approximately $3.9 million in STBG funds, and those funds must be used on federal aid eligible roads or for transit capital projects.

TwinCATS says that 22 applications were submitted with a total funding request of approximately $8.7 million, more than twice the amount that will actually be available for that time frame. A project review committee has chosen projects to be recommended for approval at the TwinCATS meeting which is coming up on January 14, 2019. That review committee was appointed by TwinCATS and is made up of engineers, elected officials, a transit agency director, and economic development agency.

Those who were allowed to submit road projects for consideration include, the City of Benton Harbor, the City of St. Joseph, the City of Bridgman, the Village of Shoreham, and the Village of Stevensville. Also allowed to submit was the Berrien County Road Department which maintains roads for  Benton Charter Township, Hagar Township, Lake Township, Lincoln Charter Township, Sodus Township, St. Joseph Charter Township. Finally, local transit agencies are allowed to provide input, such as the Twin Cities Area Transportation Authority (TCATA/Dial A Ride).

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

  • Road condition
  • Traffic volume
  • The expected useful life of the project
  • Complete streets elements
  • 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 TwinCATS, used the approved scoring system to rank the 22 applications and gave the results to the project review committee, which met last week on December 17, 2018.

The review committee selected 9 projects to submit to the TwinCATS Technical and policy Committees for final approval on Monday January 14, 2019 at 9:20 am. That meeting will be held at Kinexus/Michigan WORKS at Main and Riverview in Benton Harbor.

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 14th meeting. Proposed projects can be found on the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission website by clicking the link below:

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

These were some of higher scoring projects:

  • Langley Road in the City of St. Joseph scored high because of the city’s asset management planning which is coordinating road work with storm and sanitary sewer upgrades. The projects will include bike lanes or a non-motorized path to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. There will also be safety improvements.
  • John Beers Road in Royalton Township scored high because it is adding 4.75 foot shoulders to accommodate cyclists. The project is continuing repaving work from 2019 creating a longer stretch of good road.
  • Marquette Woods Road (From South Roosevelt to Cleveland) in Lincoln Township scored high because of the 6 foot wide shoulders being added to accommodate bicyclists which will connect to the existing facilities on Marquette Woods and the Roosevelt Road Path.

However, the scores were not the only mechanism for choosing projects. In fact, local priorities outweighed the scores. The selection committee, made up of the local agencies (road commission municipalities, transit agency, and the economic development sector), were allowed to each identify their highest priority project.

Certain projects that scored poorly were still chosen as a local priority project.  Napier Avenue was a low scoring project (due to a lack of non-motorized features), but was identified as a local priority by the Berrien County Road Commission.

“Complete Streets” describes a comprehensive, integrated transportation network with infrastructure and design that allows safe and convenient travel along and across streets for all users, including pedestrians, users, and operators of public transit, bicyclists, and persons with disabilities, seniors, children, motorists, and movers of commercial goods.

All transportation improvement projects present opportunities to adopt a Complete Streets approach. The TwinCATS Complete Streets Policy, approved in 2014, requires projects to attempt to provide safe facilities for all modes of transportation, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, unless the projects are on certain exempt roads like Interstates or in areas with little development where traffic volumes and/or pedestrian and bicycle volumes are low.

Of the 22 proposed projects, 16 projects were designed to accommodate bicycles or pedestrians.  The final projects that were chosen to go forward for approval to the TwinCATS Policy committee were as follows:  Resurfacing and Reconstruction Projects with bike lanes, shoulders, or sidewalks accounted for approximately 64-percent of the funding, while the remaining 36-percent is being used for resurfacing only with no added non-motorized features.

The TwinCATS reference to “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 – 25 years.  That’s why it’s important to consider long-term effects of infrastructure such as sewer, water, utilities, street-scaping, 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 process for public participation varies by municipality in public outreach regarding the 22 proposed projects submitted for the call the projects. Once the projects are selected and brought into the MPO planning process the public comment on projects is much more defined. If you are curious about why your community chose to submit certain projects, you are encouraged to contact your local elected officials.

TwinCATS has identified the following as key dates for public review:

  • December 27, 2018: Online comment form will be available to comment on projects on SWMPC’s website.
  • Monday, January 14, 2019: TwinCATS Technical and Policy Committee Meeting at 9:30 am at Kinexus/Michigan WORKS Office at the corner of Main and Riverview Drive in downtown Benton Harbor.
  • Anytime: Email SWMPC Transportation Planners: 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.