SCHOOLCRAFT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — In an effort to make it safer and easier to navigate, more “Michigan lefts” are coming to US-131 between Schoolcraft and Three Rivers.
The two-year, $51 million project will rebuild and repave more than 13 miles of US-131 and add more of the median turnarounds.
“We’re eliminating traffic that crosses 131 and helping them merge safely in any direction,” the Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Nick Shirripa said.
The stretch of road in question is a surface street and has a history of serious crashes. At the XY Avenue intersection, for example, two people were killed in a crash in May 2021. Three semi-trucks collided there six months later.
The problem, drivers and MDOT agree, is traffic moves so fast on 131 that it’s difficult to pull in or out of driveways or turn onto side roads.
“Most people are used to driving the expressway at 70 (mph),” driver Cheri Stoltzner of Texas Corners said. “So you get down here and it’s 55. Once in a while, there’ll be a 35 and then there’s an 85. So everybody is going all sorts of different speeds and you really have to pay attention.”
“We have really, really high-speed traffic on 131,” Schirripa said. “You have people who are at a dead stop on those cross streets, trying to make a left turn. They have to cross two lanes of high-speed traffic and then merge into another two lanes of high speed traffic. It’s a very difficult move to make.”
A Schoolcraft school bus was involved in a fender bender because of the problem, the district says.
“As we head south of town, those are dangerous intersections and people don’t follow the 55 mph (speed limit),” Schoolcraft Community Schools Superintendent Rick Frens said.
“People are always turning right or left to get off the road, so anything they can do to make it safer would be welcomed in this area,” driver Jo Morgan of Almena Township said.
MDOT says the “Michigan left” is the solution:
“If we eliminate that movement, we’re going to eliminate that type of crash. So instead of having a left-hand turn, we’re going to have all right-hand turns,” Schirripa said.
The agency decided to tackle the problem at the same time it was repaving the aging US-131.
“Anybody who’s driven that stretch of 131 knows that concrete needs help, right? Just the roadway itself, it needs help. So that was the impetus. Then, because we were going to be there and we’re doing all that work, it’s easy enough to add these two projects together, make them one contract and do it all at one time,” Schirripa said.
He added that local drivers are used to the “Michigan left,” so they’ll catch on quickly.
Frens welcomes the work.
“(It’s) helping our routes move smoothly. We’ve got buses that are able to keep moving, keep traffic flowing, so we’re looking forward to that,” he said. “That’s going to be a big bonus for us.”
Lane closures are in effect between U Avenue in Schoolcraft Township and M-60 in Three Rivers while construction is underway. The project is expected to be done by the end of 2024.