AES to hold meeting on potential trail project

MANISTEE TWP. — In 2020, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is scheduled to replace the M-55 bridge across the Manistee River, near the intersection of M-55 and U.S. 31.

The project also presents an opportunity to potentially extend the width of the bridge and install trails to accommodate snowmobiles, walkers, hikers and cyclists.

The Manistee County community is invited to participate in a discussion about this possibility at 6:30 p.m. on April 3 in the choir room of the Manistee High School, located at 525 12th St. in Manistee.

The Alliance for Economic Success (AES) will be the neutral facilitators of the meeting.

“Within the last year, MDOT approached Manistee Township and Manistee County to let them know that, despite hopes to just repair the bridge, they have to in fact replace it,” said Tamara Buswinka of the AES. “Since there’s an enormous amount of work that goes into a project like that — studies, permits, construction engineering — this could be an opportunity to add a central piece of the trail system that we’re trying to develop throughout Manistee County.”

The development of a multi-use trail system throughout the county is one prong of the award-winning Manistee County-wide parks and recreation plan, which combines recreation plans of all 21 municipalities within the county.

A committee was formed — SMARTrail (Sensational Manistee Area Recreational Trails) — to spearhead this partucular initiative, the ultimate goal being to not only develop a system within Manistee County boarders, but connect it with other trails in the region, namely the Betsie Valley Trail to the north and the White Pine Trail to the east.

The immediate focus of the committee was to develop the trail system first from the county’s boarders and route it inward, but collaborating with MDOT on the bridge project would be a cost savings for a route across the Manistee River.

“This portion of the trail system wasn’t the committee’s top priority, but it was definitely in the plans for the future,” Buswinka said. “But when you have an opportunity that presents itself — like it has with the bridge project — you at least owe it to yourself to evaluate the options.

“And that’s what this meeting is about: Right now, it’s simply an opportunity to talk about whether this is something we could do.”

According to the AES, the meeting is not a formal public hearing but rather a community discussion to inform and to allow the public to offer comments about the project.

The meeting’s agenda includes presentations from the SMARTrail Committee and MDOT as well as a question and answer session with the public.

MDOT recently prepared a fact sheet that outlines three potential options for the bridge extension, if it were to include elements of a multi-use trail.

The estimated total cost of the bridge replacement alone is $10,259,887, to be paid for by MDOT. Trail addition options, funds for which would have to be generated locally, include:

• Substructure widening only for future construction of the trail: $487,678;

• Bridge widening with trail only (no approach work that would be for a trail): $1,982,076; and

• Trail on the bridge with approaches: $2,158,276.

“The meeting is to evaluate the options provided by MDOT, and of course the other option would be to not pursue it at this time,” Buswinka said.

Jeff Dontz, chair of the Manistee County Board of Commissioners and Dennis Bjorkquist, Manistee Township supervisor, are scheduled to be in attendance at the meeting.

Information may also be found on the newly created SMARTrail Facebook page, the AES Facebook page or the AES website, allianceforeconomicsuccess.com.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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