City staff and Downtown Development Authority board members began discussing an augmented landscape plan April 21 for the Big Beaver Road, Interstate 75 interchange to supplement MDOT’s tree plantings.

City staff and Downtown Development Authority board members began discussing an augmented landscape plan April 21 for the Big Beaver Road, Interstate 75 interchange to supplement MDOT’s tree plantings.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

Troy DDA discusses augmented landscape plan for Big Beaver, I-75 interchange

City staff, DDA chair underwhelmed by MDOT plan

By: Jonathan Shead | Troy Times | Published May 13, 2021


TROY — Troy Downtown Development Authority board members met virtually with city officials April 21 to discuss improving landscaping at the city’s new diverging diamond interchange, at Big Beaver Road and Interstate 75, after deeming the Michigan Department of Transportation’s landscaping plan for the corridor to be insufficient.

City Manager Mark Miller told the DDA board that a draft request for qualifications for landscape design services to augment plantings MDOT has been planning for the interchange. DDA members would have to approve a DDA plan amendment in the future, which would allow them to use city funding for additional landscape services.

“We can expect not a very robust planting landscape from MDOT, and we really look forward to the opportunity to revitalize that area with the DDA and augment some of those plantings that MDOT is doing,” Department of Public Works Director Kurt Bovensiep added.

DDA Chairman Alan Kiriluk echoed Bovensiep’s comments and took it a step further to say MDOT’s landscaping plan was embarrassing.

“It’s just a bunch of sticks. There are a lot of them, and maybe in 10 years or so they’ll become something meaningful, but more or less they’re a 2-inch caliper tree — maybe 2.5 (inches). They’re all over, but there’s no character,” he said. “The specimen chain is kind of mixed up, so that if one tree dies or is vulnerable to some sort of insect, you don’t wipe out the whole interchange, but if you look at what you have at Square Lake (Road) and I-75, that’s essentially what they’re doing.”

However, the landscaping plan was presented this way somewhat intentionally, MDOT-Macomb Senior Contracts and Design Project Manager Spiro Kotsonis said. The transportation organization will often increase the amount of tree coverage for corridors near residential areas to reduce noise pollution, but will opt for less tree coverage in commercial corridors.

The Big Beaver, I-75 corridor will include 4,493 tree plantings from MDOT’s landscaping project.

“We’re not going to plant as many trees because the businesses in that corridor don’t want as many trees. They want people to see their business from I-75,” Kotsonis said. “We tried to accommodate both the businesses and the residential folks in Troy.”

The landscape plan may also seem bare bones to city officials because MDOT funding is always limited, Kotsonis said about the $4.3 million project. “Our design went a little over our budget, so we had to go back down to our budget, but it was never cut,” he said, adding that the city was too late to submit augmented plans for MDOT to incorporate.

“You always have to balance that there’s always a limited budget. We don’t have an unlimited budget. I know during our design process we did talk to the city of Troy, and they were thinking about creating (a) more augmented, elaborate landscaping design at I-75 and Big Beaver, but there wasn’t enough time for them to add it to the design. We’re going to start planting this October.”

MDOT provides municipalities with a 2:1 or 3:1 replacement ratio for any trees they cut down during a construction project, Kotsonis said. The city would have needed to provide an augmented landscape plan by February 2021 to MDOT for it to be implemented alongside their construction.

DDA Board member Kenny Koza found inspiration from other regional corridors that the city could mirror.

“I live nearby Orchard Lake (Road), between 14 and 15 Mile (roads), and to me I love what West Bloomfield did with all the medians. If we could provide what they’ve done in West Bloomfield almost as inspiration for the Big Beaver (Road) corridor — the rock formations, all the shrubbery, and everything I think was just a very high level and very beautiful,” he said.

“I used to avoid driving down Orchard Lake like the plague, and now I enjoy taking it to where I’m going just simply because of the amazing things they’ve done to the medians. I think it’s a beautiful atmosphere now.”

Finding the funding

When it comes to finding funding for the additional, augmented landscape plan city officials would like to see implemented through the DDA, Board member Martin Knollenberg suggested the city should look into getting state funding through the state’s representatives.

“You can get money from the state, but typically, it needs to be shovel-ready. I just want to put that out there,” he said. “Typically, the state is not going to earmark or allow an appropriation unless it’s shovel-ready. They won’t provide money on speculation … (but) if we have a little bit of time, that would be something to consider.”

Potential opportunities to secure funding from the county may make themselves known in the future as well, Kiriluk said. “I would agree. There’s going to be a lot of money moving around, and we have to stay close to it and find out how it would qualify for us. Maybe we can consider phasing the project, so some of the more typical Big Beaver (Road) corridor work we can get to a little earlier, as opposed to the interchange.”

MDOT would like to beautify the corridor with landscaping to the city’s liking, Kotsonis said, but they lack the funding and their focus lay elsewhere.

“Our main focus is to replace the trees that were cut down and dedicate our funding to reconstructing the roads. We consider an augmented landscaping plan like an extra,” he said. “I know the city wants more elaborate things, but unfortunately, we just don’t have the funding to do that.”

Troy Mayor Ethan Baker said at the April 21 DDA meeting that the city should take what MDOT is giving them, but be prepared as a city to implement the landscape project they want. “Take the bare minimum from them, but be fully prepared to do what we feel is best for our city, because we’re going to be the ones who have to pay for it. We’re also going to be the ones who are going to see it every day, so I think we need to recognize that and be very vocal about what we do.”

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