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April 25, 2018 1:00 am

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Douglas Blaming Saugatuck For Loss Of Federal Grant $$ For Bike Trail


Some Douglas city officials are placing blame on their counterparts across the bridge for having lost the surety of the federal grant previously on the table for the Douglas portion of the Blue Star Highway biking trail.

The Douglas City Council discussed the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant, which is valued at $427,000, during Monday’s meeting.

While Saugatuck and Douglas city officials had been debating their differences over the non-motorized biking trail for over a year—consequently leading Douglas to modify its original trail plan— state officials have informed Douglas it has run out of money for 2017 and has put the project on a waiting list.

“So now we wait and cross our fingers that MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) has remaining money they can obligate for the project. We will keep you posted as we learn anything,” reported Scott Post, city engineer with Prein & Newhof, in an August 28 email to Douglas officials about the city’s most recent plan design submittal.

The CMAQ federal program, which is administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), provides a flexible funding source to state and local municipalities for transportation projects and programs to help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The nonprofit Friends of the Blue Star Trail - which is behind the biking path project - hope to eventually construct a 20-mile connecting path from South Haven north to the current Saugatuck Township stretch.

With promised financial help from the biking group and the CMAQ money, Douglas had plans to finish its second stretch of the Blue Star Trail, from Center Street north across the Blue Star Bridge to Lake Street this past summer.

It is a proposed project that has been folded into the city’s overall Blue Star Corridor improvement effort.

The original design for Douglas meant replacing, with street markings, the existing four lanes with two lanes—north and south traffic lanes—and having a separated 14-foot-wide non-motorized bike trail on the bridge’s west side. It also included some Blue Star Highway landscape improvements and curb islands at intersections.

However, Saugatuck has jurisdiction of the north half of the bridge and the Lake Street intersection, and Saugatuck officials and residents alike expressed reservations about the Douglas project from the get-go, referring to the entire enterprise as “the trail to nowhere.”

Public safety, argue Saugatuck residents and officials, ought to be a top priority.

Saugatuck officials, including City Manager Kirk Harrier, said Douglas officials were warned repeatedly in the past that the Saugatuck City Council had several concerns about the proposed bike path.

Among those concers are not having enough space for emergency vehicles; traffic congestion during the busy summer season that could be a hazard for cyclists and motorists alike; blind spots; and the very steep street that is State Street, one of the proposed alternate routes for the Blue Star Trail.

Also, Saugatuck officials have often publicly stated the city has other, more important priorities that need be addressed.

Efforts that some Saugatuck officials and residents have characterized as trying to “shame and intimidate” Saugatuck into participating were for naught.

Douglas changed its plans so as to not expand the bridge, but stopped its trail project south of the bridge. However, one of the CMAQ grant stipulations is contiguous connectivity as well as adhering to the standard specifications of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

The holdup came at a great cost for Douglas.

“They (MDOT officials ) said the money has been not obligated. The 2017 balance has been spoken for. It doesn’t mean all the money has been used up; there is still an opportunity. We are on waiting lists,” Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere told The Local Observer.

Both Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials said they would assume future maintenance costs for the trail sections within their boundaries.

Saugatuck Township has already taken advantage of a CMAQ grant to build a portion of the trail within its boundaries.

Douglas Blaming Saugatuck For Loss Of Federal Grant $$ For Bike Trail

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