WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — State lawmakers on Thursday approved $25 million to expand and modernize the Fruit Ridge Avenue Bridge over I-96 in Walker with the goal of supporting the industrial growth the area has seen in recent years.
Walker Mayor Gary Carey said the funding will help the area continue to grow. There are more than 15,000 jobs within a 2-mile radius of the bridge, a figure that has grown by thousands in just the past five years. Carey said that every day, those workers increase the population of the area by about 60%.
“So there’s a lot of that influx of traffic that comes in there. And you have a road that basically goes from four lanes down to … a two-lane bridge. It’s that old Eisenhower-era bridge and it’s a really tight squeeze there. No sidewalk paths or anything else, no room for pedestrians, bikers, what have you. And then it’s back to four lanes again,” Carey said. “It’s just really is not keeping with the growth we’ve had up in that area.”
As prospective developers have looked toward Walker, city leaders have had to keep the bridge in mind, wondering if it could handle additional capacity.
“Anybody that’s driven through our Walker View and our Northridge industrial corridor, that has been the economic growth engine that through the pandemic and even through some economic headwinds for a lot of other communities, it’s kept Walker in such a sound financial position. What this means to us is this is no longer a limiter on what we can do there,” Carey said.
Carey said people have worked for years to secure the funding, including Republican state Sen. Mark Huizenga, who traveled to Washington, D.C., when he was the Walker mayor to advocate for it.
City leaders already have plans laid out from previous grant submissions, so they should be able to move fairly quickly, Carey said. He noted, however, that supply chain backlogs and labor shortages will likely hold the project up. So far, there is no timeline for when work will start or be finished.