Wait, maybe 2019.
No, definitely 2020.
It’s certainly been a seesaw, but it appears the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has finally made up its mind regarding when the much-anticipated M-24 construction project will occur.
“MDOT will no longer consider advancing the project to the 2019 construction year and the project will remain in the 2020 construction year as previously planned,” wrote Sandra C. Montes, manager of MDOT’s Oakland Transportation Service Center, in an April 4 email to local officials.
“Hopefully, with this final decision, the local communities and all affected parties will be better able to plan and coordinate their work and activities with our project and construction dates.”
The M-24 project is slated to extend from Goldengate St. in Orion Township to Harriet St. in Oxford Township and encompass the villages of Lake Orion and Oxford in between.
Construction was scheduled for 2019, but got pushed to 2020 last October.
Then, in February of this year, MDOT announced it wanted the project to be shovel-ready for 2019 just in case funding became available, even though it was still officially scheduled for 2020.
MDOT later promised local officials it would make a final decision – 2019 or 2020 – by the end of last month.
Overall, Glenn Pape, executive director of the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA), believes the decision to hold the project to 2020 is beneficial.
“Financially, it’s better for the DDA and the village,” he said. “It makes it easier for us to save for it.”
The M-24 reconstruction will encompass downtown Oxford from end to end. In addition to completely tearing out the road, downtown’s sidewalks, along with trees and light poles, will also be removed and replaced.
DDA and village officials view this as their opportunity to implement major streetscape improvements while M-24 is essentially a blank state. These improvements are meant to enhance pedestrian safety and comfort, abate noise pollution, calm traffic and create a sense of place that’s inviting to visitors.
The total anticipated cost for the streetscape reconstruction is $2.094 million. To pay for it, Oxford is hoping to receive $519,718 in grant money from the state’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), then combine it with $654,486 from MDOT and $919,656 from the village and DDA.
Of the village/DDA portion, $259,859 is matching funds for the TAP grant, while the rest is for items not covered by TAP such as design costs, water/sewer lines, on-street parking and intersection improvements.
With the project now scheduled for 2020, some of those numbers may need to be tweaked, according to Pape.
“The only thing that we’ll have to do is account for inflation for one (additional) year and we had already done those calculations,” he said. “We’re not going back out and saying, ‘Okay, we’ve got an extra year. Let’s look at the budget again.’ No. We’re pushing though with this. (The grant application has) been submitted and this is what we’re operating under.”
Pape noted “a large contingency” was already built into the streetscape budget “to cover” inflation, “but if we need to add a little bit more on our end, we can do that.”
Pape is hopeful pushing the project to 2020 will give the village and DDA “more time” to work on the design and engineering aspects of the new streetscape and have “greater public involvement in terms” of selecting the “final design elements.”
He’s not sure if Montes’ email means that the project’s design and engineering no longer must be completed by September of this year.
“I’m waiting to hear back on that,” Pape said. “I have not gotten a reply yet because we don’t have a project manager for the reconstruction . . . I’m hoping to find out this week.”
Pape likes the fact that pushing the M-24 project back a year will give the village and DDA more time to help downtown businesses survive the roadwork, something that can often have a negative impact on local commerce.
“We’ve got an extra 12 months to sit down and really craft a good action plan for business assistance and retention during the construction project,” he said.
Despite the positives, Pape admitted “it would have been nice to get (the project) done” earlier, so M-24 doesn’t have another year to continue deteriorating.
He spoke with MDOT last fall about the possibility of at least doing some heavy-duty maintenance this year, “more than just cold patch.” He’s hoping that happens.