Proposal would reduce Utica at Gratiot to three lanes

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 30, 2015


ROSEVILLE — Motorists going along Utica Road between Gratiot Avenue and 12 Mile Road might have noticed that as of Oct. 22, the road has been restricted to three lanes.

According to City Manager Scott Adkins, this is part of an evaluation to see if permanently changing the road to three lanes would make that downtown area safer for pedestrians and drivers.

With the traffic restriction, what was once two lanes each way has become one lane each way along with a dedicated turn lane; the leftover road space would be turned into street parking and pedestrian space under a permanent change. Adkins said this is something the city has been interested in doing for a while.

“It really goes back several years when we first started talking about redeveloping the Gratiot corridor and Utica junction,” Adkins said. “We worked with (the Michigan Department of Transportation) and Macomb County to put in a temporary traffic shift to evaluate how changes may work within that area of Utica.”

Even though the posted speed limit at that stretch of Utica is 35 miles per hour, Adkins said drivers routinely were going faster. Additionally, drivers trying to make left turns caused traffic to come to a standstill behind them while waiting for a chance to turn.

He said that reducing the number of lanes and adding that dedicated turn lane is forcing people to drive the speed limit and could reduce the number of collisions. Adkins added that this setup reflects the configurations in downtowns in other cities, such as Romeo and Berkley.

According to the Federal Highway Safety Administration, these kinds of road restrictions — or road diets — can reduce accidents by 19-47 percent, based on traffic volume, previous crash history, installation details and whether or not the section of road is rural or urban.

Adkins said that a week into the trial, he had received positive and negative feedback from residents, business owners and motorists. He said local businesspeople seemed to like the change, while some people who use Utica to cut through to 12 Mile had complained about the traffic restriction.

Gary Wakeford, owner of the Stonewood Smokehouse Bar and BBQ, said that a week in, the traffic restrictions had not negatively impacted his business.

“It’s been flowing just fine; no one can say that it’s hurt any,” Wakeford said. “Plus, I kind of like having that center divider — that turn lane in the center — because before, if you wanted to turn (left, you) would just shut Utica Road right down.”

Without changes to the Utica junction area, Wakeford said he was concerned that it would just become an area full of vacant lots. While some people may not like things changing — both with the road and with the area — he expects that eventually those unhappy with the changes would become used to them and come around.

Others are not pleased with the change. On the Roseville city Facebook page, people have posted concerns about gridlock and confusion related to the change.

The evaluation period is expected to take several months and end sometime after New Year’s Day. Adkins said the city would then review the traffic data and either repeal the effort entirely, make some modifications to the proposal, or approve it as is. The City Council, in collaboration with the Macomb County Department of Roads, which controls Utica Road, will make the final decision.

Adkins said that while the downtown area may not seem to need these restrictions or changes at this point, it is easier to make the redesigns to the road now — before more development comes in — than wait until later. In other communities that have been building their downtowns, Adkins said, it could take upwards of 10 years to get all the “pieces in place.”

“To build the downtown does mean change,” he said. “We’re going to see businesses there today that may expand, businesses that may move from their current location, and new businesses that will move into downtown. What are vacant lots today hopefully will have businesses on them in the near future.”

Adkins added that up until the 1960s, that section of Utica was a single lane in each direction, with a median and street parking.