In a special session held at New Union Brewery over the weekend, local leaders unveiled an ambitious plan to fix city roads and change how traffic moves through the city.
“We simply can’t wait any longer,” city manager Mike Burns said. While he remains hopeful residents will pass a city income tax on this November’s ballot, he said the new road plan can proceed either way since it includes a funding mechanism.
While some councilmembers seemed hesitant, it was ultimately decided to move forward with the plan which includes roundabouts, toll roads and gravel streets.
Two Roundabouts on Main Street
While roundabouts are controversial, Mayor Mike DeVore is a fan. He was adamant he wouldn’t support any plan unless it includes these circular intersections.
“I love roundabouts,” he said. “I would like to see roundabouts at every intersection. We need lots and lots of roundabouts.”
“Hold up there big guy,” said councilmember Marty Chambers. “Maybe we should just start with one or two and see how it goes.”
Councilmembers agreed to begin with roundabouts at the Main and Hudson intersection and the Main and Alden Nash intersection. When asked whether the Michigan Department of Transportation would need to give approval, Burns shook his head no. “MDOT will do what I tell them to do,” he said.
Toll Roads to Pay for Repairs
Of course, roundabouts don’t build themselves so that led to the next phase of the city’s plan: toll roads.
All local streets will be equipped with toll equipment. Along North Monroe, the toll booth will be placed at Avery to allow people free access to the library and city parking lots. The toll system will work automatically, scanning a card affixed to a vehicle’s windshield.
All neighborhood residents will be given 60 free passes per month. “No one should ever have to leave their house more than once a day,” explained assistant city manager Rich LaBombard.
Councilmember Greg Canfield expressed concern about businesses that may need to make service calls in neighborhoods and was told that discounted toll passes would be offered to those buying in bulk. Tolls would also be suspended on Washington Street each Memorial Day to allow people free access to Oakwood Cemetery.
Councilmember Cliff Yankovich suggested going one step further and closing local roads to all traffic. He suggested expanding city parking lots and providing a fleet of electric scooters for those who were unable to walk to their homes. “EVs are the wave of the future,” he said. However, that idea was quickly shot down because, well, no one really likes electric vehicles.
Some Roads Will Return to Gravel
Burns acknowledged that even with the income produced by tolls, there wouldn’t be enough money to fix the city’s current infrastructure. “At our current rate of repairs, it will be 2096 before we get half the city streets to fair condition,” he said. “We’ll need to turn some back to gravel. There’s just no way around it.”
As for which roads would be returned to gravel, Burns said the worst streets would be prioritized. He also had an innovative idea to reduce the costs for grinding up the existing pavement.
“Sue, could you go to slide 46 of my PowerPoint,” Burns asked city clerk Sue Ullery. Canfield quietly hummed the Jeopardy theme while councilmembers waited for Ullery to find the right slide.
“We know Howard Street is in really bad shape,” Burns said. “So I think we could use the kids from Bushnell Elementary to help break up the asphalt. See, I even found little pickaxes for the kindergarteners,” he said gesturing to the slide which showed axes labeled for teacher, child and infant use.
When councilmembers didn’t respond, Burns added: “Kids like to break things, right? So let’s let them break things.”
“Is that even legal?” asked councilmember Jim Salzwedel.
Burns didn’t appear to hear the question. “The school isn’t quite on board yet,” he acknowledged, “but I think we can get them there.”
Police Chief Steve Bukala raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
Some are Rightly Skeptical
With Dave Hildenbrand no longer in the Michigan Senate, it’s unclear who will get the state to pay for this city project.
Lowell’s First Look reached out to State Representative Thomas Albert to get his take on the matter. He seemed a bit flummoxed. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “Sounds like some sort of April Fools’ joke to me.”