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How far will they go? Foster seeks deeper road project for Ludington Avenue, Lakeshore Drive

May 24, 2019

Ludington City Manager Mitch Foster said the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) plans to repave Ludington Avenue and Lakeshore Drive in 2020, but he is recommending a complete reconstruction to solve the underlying road issues.

Foster said MDOT recently unexpectedly informed the city it will repave Ludington Avenue from James Street to Lakeshore Drive and resurface Lakeshore Drive from Ludington to Tinkham avenues. The project would use the method called mill-and-fill, which involves removing the surface layers of the lanes and replacing them with new asphalt layers.

That project would likely take two or three months to complete, although it is unknown when in 2020 MDOT hopes to start, Foster said, adding that it would be paid for by state funds and that MDOT would decide how to reroute traffic.

Foster said the mill-and-fill improvements would only last about five to seven years before potholes, sinking and other problems return, and that he prefers a longer-lasting solution.

He plans to meet with MDOT’s regional director in early June “to talk about the long-term viability of specifically those two roads because a mill-and-fill is going to do nothing,” Foster told the city council Monday.

“It isn’t the surface of the road that’s the issue — it’s the base,” he said. “And even underneath the base, our utilities are what our utilities guys say are ‘provisional.’ They’re not wooden, (but) they’re the next iteration right after wooden.”

Foster told the Daily News the utilities and road foundation are likely from the 1950s and ’60s — beneath the asphalt is rock aggregate, and below that is a layer of sawdust and sand. This outdated road base is the reason why sections of Ludington Avenue, Lakeshore Drive and their curbs and sidewalks are sinking, crumbling and have large potholes, such as by Wesco, he said.

“I think long-term we can’t just keep putting Band-Aids on it, which cost a couple hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars to the taxpayer, even though it’s MDOT that’s doing it,” Foster told the council. “What we have to do is have a realistic solution long-term, and that’s a full reconstruction of both roads.”

Ludington Avenue and Lakeshore Drive are trunklines controlled by MDOT, so any road repair — except for utility work — is ultimately determined and paid for by the state.

Foster said that a project to reconstruct Ludington Avenue and Lakeshore Drive from the foundation upward would cost MDOT millions of dollars and would likely take at least a year to complete to “do it right.” Ideally, the road base would be replaced and would be left to settle for a winter before paving, “so you’re not worrying about how it’ll sink,” he explained.

He said a complete reconstruction project would cost more money and take more time in the short-term, but it would save time and money in the long-run because the roads would have to be fixed less often. Otherwise, using mill-and-fill every seven years or so is “no different than a dentist putting a cap on a bad tooth,” Foster told the Daily News.

If a full reconstruction was performed, the city would likely also replace the aging utility lines beneath those roads, which the city would pay for using its budget and any grant funds it could receive for the project, Foster said, adding that postponing the project until 2021 would help the city better prepare.

He said that traffic during the project could be reduced to one lane on Ludington Avenue and Lakeshore Drive, or could close entirely. Any traffic detours would be determined by MDOT in consultation with its contractors.

Closing the roads completely would make the project go quicker, he said, adding that because of the city’s grid layout and alleys, customers could still get to the businesses in the affected areas.

“We have to do this right because it’s the main drag through this city and to the state park,” Foster said. “A lot is riding on this, and we don’t want to rush it.”

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