Highway work can proceed, for now

City Council gives MDOT 45 days to define noisy nights

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 27, 2013

City Council has given the Michigan Department of Transportation until mid-May to explain itself better in its request to vary from a city ordinance prohibiting the “excavation of streets and highways, other than between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.”

According to the city ordinance, MDOT can vary from that by obtaining a permit from the city through the community services director, city manager or assistant community development director. The matter was brought to City Council March 18, and council members were concerned that the project might be too much for neighboring residents to bear through the summer.

MDOT will be milling and resurfacing I-94 from 11 Mile Road to Masonic Boulevard, plus making drainage and lighting improvements and replacing the concrete barrier. Work is scheduled to begin around April 1 and is planned to be complete by Oct. 1.

Mark Koskinen, senior contract project manager with MDOT, said construction crews would need to be able to work between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. to avoid disrupting the most traffic. Two lanes of traffic will be maintained throughout the project, but nighttime is when the highway can be shut down to one lane in each direction, allowing more work to get done.

The project will extend to two years, Koskinen said, if work is not allowed at night.

“We’re much more productive during the night,” he said. “The number of nights we’re going to be actually milling is going to be minimal.

“They’ll do the majority of it on the weekends, but there is a need for us to do this also at night.”

He anticipated that workers would be milling the road for approximately 20-25 nights throughout the entire project, but only about 3-5 nights at a time with breaks in between. The project extends out of St. Clair Shores into Roseville, as well.

“They will do as much as they can on the weekends,” he said. “It would be a couple consecutive nights, then a break.”

Council members said they wanted to have a schedule of days that the milling of the concrete would occur.

“What I’m not comfortable with is, we don’t have any recourse or any way we can solve an issue if there’s just too much noise and it goes on too long,” said Councilman Peter Rubino. “I understand there’s going to be a lot of variables.”

But Koskinen said they couldn’t guarantee a set schedule of, say, no more than five consecutive nights of milling with a two-week break in between.

“We set these up to be as fast as possible,” he said. “If we’re out there for longer … all your residents that have to drive to Detroit will be stuck in backups even longer.

“If they’re ready to go and mill an area and it’s Monday, we don’t want to waste a week of good weather.”

Colin Forbes, senior contracts and projects administrator with the Michigan Department of Transportation, said the contractor’s construction plan has not been approved by the state yet, so the state can address concerns such as where trucks will be driven through the city at this point. Milling, however, isn’t an issue they can control much.

He said Koskinen’s estimate is very good, however.

“Once that milling is done, we are talking six to eight weeks before the next milling operation,” Forbes said. “My concern is going to be the time frame with the contract. Any costs we incur with delay … unfortunately, we are going to all share those costs.”

The project is being paid for with a federal highway grant, money from the State of Michigan and the cities of Roseville and St. Clair Shores. The total cost of the project is approximately $20 million and the city’s share is approximately $139,900.

Rubino made a motion, supported by Councilman John Caron, to grant MDOT a 45-day provisional variance from the noise ordinance to give the department time to get back to the city with more firm days that milling will occur and routes for truck traffic. The matter passed unanimously.

Councilwoman Candice Rusie, though, said she wasn’t even sure this was something Council had the authority to decide. City Attorney Robert Ihrie agreed, saying the vote was to give city administrators direction on how to proceed from council. The permit to conduct overnight work, and vary from the noise ordinance, ultimately had to come from city administrators.

Forbes said that MDOT does not want to overrule local governments; it wants to work with them. He explained that this wasn’t the first time a municipality has been concerned about noise from a project and worked to control that.

Nevertheless, he said, if the city doesn’t relent, it will jeopardize the Oct. 1 completion date for the project.

And he said he didn’t think they would “ever be able to ensure” that contractors stick to as strict of a schedule as City Council was proposing.

The matter will be back before Council May 6.