"MDOT Evaluations Inaccurate"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Friday, July 13, 2012

Once again our state employees at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) have dictated to us they cannot or will not deviate from their “normal” traffic counting procedures. They also announced there will no longer be seasonal traffic signal changes in the resort towns of Huron County.

Of the lights changed last fall, only the signal at Buschlen Road and M-53 will return to a normal traffic signal in all four directions. My encounters with that signal during the flashing only mode were difficult. When trying to exit Walgreen’s on a Friday morning, there was a long wait to turn left off Buschlen onto M-53.

When I visited the credit union location and attempted to cross 53 to Walgreen’s, I actually had to turn right off Buschlen onto 53, head south until I could turn left into a parking lot then turn around to go north back to Buschlen to safely reach Walgreen’s. Multiply my experience by perhaps thousands during the time the light was flashing and its clear the state got it wrong. I can only guess the normally heavy traffic on M-53 in that area must have confused the traffic counters. We can be grateful there were no serious accidents and thankful the light was restored.

The traffic light I encounter daily in Port Austin is another matter. This intersection is not only the main one in this resort town; it is where two major state highways (M-53 & M-25) intersect. In addition, M-53 dead ends into a State Waterways parking and boat ramp facility. During warm seasons, boats on trailers approach the facility from three directions. When the traffic light was active, there were often traffic jams on busy weekends. This year and last year, the harbor facility at Port Austin was closed, thus monitoring of traffic at the intersection was inaccurate. The traffic counters would have indicated little need for the traffic light.

An article in the Tribune quoted Anita Richardson; “The traffic light in Port Austin will become a four-way flashing red signal and stop signs will be posted in all directions.” The lights she mentions at M-53 and M-25 have been four-way red flashing since last August when the state also installed the stop signs. Perhaps Ms. Richardson is unaware of actions already taken. MDOT also stated “Funds cannot be used to maintain signals in areas of less need.” Does this mean our taxes will be reduced because MDOT does not have to service our area to maintain our safety?

Unlike other sites under consideration for removal due to aging, Port Austin’s traffic signals are only a few years old. The cost of the recent upgrading, including all new pedestrian signals, was paid by local Downtown Development Authority funds. I understand from reports provided, once the lights are gone it’s final and improbable that re-installation will occur.

If MDOT really feels the need to eliminate the only traffic control at the tip of the Thumb, I hope they wait to evaluate and make that decision after the state’s reconstruction of the harbor is complete and an accurate traffic tally can be done.

Perhaps MDOT and the Michigan Waterways Commission officials could sit down and discuss the need for Port Austin’s traffic control. MDOT representatives would learn how much vehicle traffic increase is anticipated once the two-year harbor reconstruction completes. Consideration should be made that pedestrian traffic was much heavier in past years when the docks were in use and the breakwall walkway was readily accessible.

As I see it, the closure of the docks and ramps has been a blow to downtown Port Austin businesses. Removal of the pedestrian and traffic signals will result in another setback. It is hard to maintain a business in a small, seasonal resort town. Obstacles created by the state, “My Michigan,” are making it even more difficult.

The traffic control signal in Caseville is another case of urgent need, especially on weekends and during warm seasons. Beach goers, anglers and cottage owners from Saginaw, and Bay City to the west; Port Huron and Detroit’s suburbs to the south and east arrive in Caseville to relax and get away from traffic jams. The community has worked for years to draw people to the area in an attempt to sustain local businesses. They have established events that are known to draw thousands of participants. Will the traffic counters be installed to count during those times? Are resort communities up north such as Bay Harbor, Petoskey, Harbor Springs being forced to give up their traffic signals?

If MDOT is going to use traffic counters and injury or accident reports to judge a signal’s usefulness, please use the traffic counting equipment during summer seasons as well as off season (which is what occurred prior to the removal of Port Austin’s light). We don’t want to have an increase in crashes or pedestrian injuries to occur to justify keeping our traffic signals (such as the one at East Irwin and North Port Crescent this past week).

Once again – Thumb area representatives need to be urged to make themselves heard. They must plead with the state to help our Huron County communities remain safe and enjoyable for visitors.




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