West Michigan trails under construction: Two projects break ground, change communities

Trail enthusiasts look forward to two long-awaited projects on the Fred Meijer Standale Trail that are facilitating convenient pedestrian traffic and making connections between communities.
We live in West Michigan, and as the snow melts, the construction cones inevitably come out, dotting everything from highways to city streets to greenways. Also taking advantage of the sunshine are the various trail projects that have lain dormant during the winter season. Two projects in particular have just broken ground, and are set to change the face of their communities. With a new tunnel under M-45 and a connection pathway on Remembrance Road in Walker, trail enthusiasts look forward to these two long-awaited projects on the Fred Meijer Standale Trail that are facilitating convenient pedestrian traffic and making connections between communities.

Between Walker and Grand Rapids, the Fred Meijer Standale Trail crosses M-45, connecting the two cities and providing a non-motorized pathway for commuters, families and students of Grand Valley State University. This 6.5-mile trail with a trailhead near Harmon Field park was just competed in 2010 and sports some impressive landscaping. However, the trail's safety becomes an issue at M-45, where trail users are forced to pause their trail route, travel a half mile to Kinney Ave. and cross the street at a signaled intersection. And, despite a sign directing them to do so, walkers and bikers commonly ignore this recommendation, crossing the five-lane highway at their own risk.

This tentative project to provide a pedestrian crossway over M-45 has been in the works for some time. As the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the city of Walker explored potential solutions, they hashed out the cost of building a bridge and moving Consumer's Energy's telephone poles. "We knew we had a great trail on our hands, but we had to find a way to make that crossing work," says Scott Conners, engineer for the city of Walker.

After much research, including a community feasibility study, they determined that the tunnel was the "cheapest, best, safest option," according to Mike Smith, the grant coordinator for the MDOT Office of Economic Development.

Funded through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), a federal source that provides funding various "alternatives" to automobiles, and matched by grassroots raised Walker dollars, MDOT's grant started at $1.4 million, and over time grew to $2.4 million, accommodating issues such as design changes. "[MDOT] funded it because it's the right thing to do," says Smith, who looks forward to the connivence and safety the tunnel will provide. The various communities that touch that section of the trail were also excited about the green-lit tunnel project. "We were really blown away at the community support we got from that," says Conners.

Scott Conners, engineer for the City of Walker.Breaking ground this March, undergoing heavy work and actual construction of the tunnel in early May and completing at the end of August, the Fred Meijer Standale Trail tunnel will instantly solve a variety of issues. Increasing safety for pedestrians, adding a connection for commuters and decreasing road traffic, the tunnel "really helps the whole system out," says Smith. Enthusiastic for the project, Grand Rapids' The Rapid bus service will also be adding bus stops to their routes, and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will construct a parking lot to accommodate added traffic to the trail.

The city of Walker has another trail project on their hands this summer. "It's a gap in the regional system. A spot that everyone's wanted to fill for a while," says Smith. Much more of a traditional construction project, MDOT and the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council (GVMC) will complete .4 miles along Remembrance Road, connecting the Village of Walker to the Fred Meijer Standale Trail at Justin Avenue. "It's a very traditional trail and sidewalk connection," says Conners. "[A] purist type of a project."

Finally connecting the city of Grand Rapids' bicycle trail network and the Fred Meijer Standale trail, this small section proved to be a vital piece of West Michigan's ongoing puzzle of trails. Funded through the GVMC with a grant of $148,000 and matching dollars from Walker, the total cost of the project will be about $266,000. In the end, with design and construction costs funded by the city, "The project will probably be about a 60/40 split," says Smith.

Though this project may seem relatively small compared to the M-45 tunnel and others, "The remembrance trail project is a great project for the residents of the city of Walker," says Darrell T. Robinson, transportation planner for the GVMC. "It will provide what has been a missing connection to other trails in the Grand Rapids metro area. The trail will also improve the safety of pedestrians who would travel through this area that had no designated route," he adds. Breaking ground in April and set to finish just one month later, the Remembrance Road trail project will quickly provide a useful link for the residents and visitors of Walker.

In the next few months, MDOT and the city of Walker will delve into these two trail projects that are sure to bring noticeable change in this and the surrounding communities. "It's been one of the most consistent things that we've had on our plate is expanding the trail system," says Conners. After 20 years as an engineer for the city of Walker, "it's very exciting now to look back and see everything that we've done," he adds. Though "building trails is not easy," he continues "it's really changed the community."

This article is part of an ongoing series, Moments on the Trails, and was made possible by the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. For more information about the WMTGC, visit wmtrails.org.

Photography by Adam Bird
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.