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Utica to make traffic changes on Cass, Van Dyke avenues

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 27, 2018

 Barricades will be set up to block Cass Avenue and bags will be put over the lights for traffic testing.

Barricades will be set up to block Cass Avenue and bags will be put over the lights for traffic testing.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

UTICA — The city of Utica will soon run a test on Cass and Van Dyke avenues that officials are hoping will help with the flow of traffic in downtown Utica.

At the Aug. 14 Utica City Council meeting, Mayor Thom Dionne announced that the city, in conjunction with the Macomb County Department of Roads and the Michigan Department of Transportation, will begin testing the traffic changes in the area soon, though there is no date set yet.

The project had to wait for the end of construction on Hall Road and Van Dyke Avenue, which was recently completed. It will consist of closing off the southbound lanes on Cass Avenue with barrels and placing bags over the traffic lights on Cass and Hall Road, just before the highway, to see if the solution is viable before making any permanent changes.

The idea was proposed about a year ago at a City Council meeting.

Dionne said cars sometimes back up on southbound Van Dyke all the way to 21 Mile Road.

“This can help to possibly increase traffic flow, (and) let around 20 cars through the light at a time instead of holding so many in queue at the light,” Dionne said at the Aug.14 meeting.

Southbound Van Dyke and southbound Cass dump onto M-59, and a series of traffic signals follow before getting to the highway.

The proposed solution is to restrict southbound traffic on Cass Avenue, eliminate the traffic signal at Cass and Hall Road, and create a second right-turn lane for southbound traffic on Van Dyke Avenue to increase traffic flow onto westbound Hall Road.

The second right-turn lane is supposed to get more cars through the light instead of holding cars until it gets backed up.

“We are still awaiting MDOT because they are busy working on other things. They liked the idea and took it and enhanced it,” Dionne said.

The traffic that would normally use Cass Avenue will have to use Van Dyke to turn right onto Hall Road in order to travel onto M-59.

“It’s a good thing for commuters; it places them west on Van Dyke and gives them more than one turn lane. Once it’s in place and it doesn’t work, then we can always remove everything,” he said.

At the meeting, Dionne said the testing will only take about a month to complete, and if it works, then the lights at Cass will be removed and the two extra lanes on Van Dyke will be put in place.

Some city officials did not fully support the idea.

“The traffic backups in the mornings are a problem for commuters. Even though this might help alleviate the problem, I think it will be an inconvenience for local residents who are used to navigating through Cass and Auburn to reach Hall Road or Van Dyke,” City Clerk Beth Ricketts said.

Others supported the idea and thought it would help to fix the current issue with traffic in the area.

“What we currently have is barely working. I applaud Mayor Dionne for thinking out of the box to try to solve the problem of traffic congestion,” Mayor Pro Tem Ken Sikora said.

“As proposed, it will be done for a trial period of time. If it works — fantastic. If it doesn’t, we can go back to what is currently in place. But doing nothing is futile,” Sikora said. “Mayor Dionne came up with the idea of changing the timing of the lights at Auburn and Cass to help lessen the traffic congestion in downtown, and it has been a great success. I hope that we experience the same relief.”

For more information, call Utica City Hall at (586) 739-1600.