Group Proposes Plan To Get Rid Of 131 “S-Curve”

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It’s a staple of the Grand Rapids skyline and part of a main road for more than 110,000 cars and trucks traveling north and south through West Michigan every day.

“You say ‘The S-Curve,’ everybody knows you’re talking about Grand Rapids,” MDOT spokesman John Richard says.

Now, as MDOT gets ready for a study looking at the Highway 131 corridor through Kent County, Parking Commissioner Andy Guy, a member of the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. wants to get rid of the S-Curve – the elevated section of 131 between I-196 and Franklin St. that passes through downtown Grand Rapids.

In an email to FOX 17 on Tuesday, Guy outlined the need for “more appropriate and visionary urban infrastructure” and stresses how important it is that “the inevitable future public investment in the 131 highway supports and enhances – rather than obstructs – the revitalization of our City and her neighborhoods.”

The group says that something like an at-grade boulevard through the city could bring more vitality and life to the urban core. They aren’t committing to one solution, though. Guy says the proposal is meant to start a “community-driven conversation” about change.

But Richard says the change would just be too expensive.

“Just upgrading the connecting freeways alone would be in the billions of dollars,” he says.

The curve underwent a $145 million rebuilding project in 2000.

Taking away the stretch could also cause problems for people already on the ground.

“Grand Valley State – for example – their campus is split by the S-Curve,” Richard says. “They can walk underneath it. If they brought it down to an at-grade boulevard, they’ve got to cross a busy street to get to another part of campus. So it’s just little things like that that would have a huge ripple effect.”

But maybe there’s a way to make it all work.

“You can create a lot of urban space by removing some of those interchanges,” Richard says. “If you remove some of those interchanges and keep 131, you could revamp, say, Division, for example. Widen that.”

“That would be a little more feasible than ripping down the S-Curve all together.”

Guy says the design people in the group are working on a conceptual vision of what the city would look like without the S-Curve to contribute to the corridor study.

The study is set to begin later this spring.

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    • Angela Lee

      NO! NO! NO! we do not need to be paying more taxes, plus don't we have enough construction going on already?, while this project is going on, where will we be detoured to? this is a stupid idea, no way will I ever support this!!!

  • ConcernedTaxPayer

    Find better things to spend out tax dollars on. If our tax dollars are spent to even "contemplate" or investigate this project, that is a total shame and waste of money. If it isn't broke (which it isn't) don't fix it, unless you want to pay for it yourself. Sounds to me like someone at MDOT already doesn't have enough real work to do so they are looking to waste countless dollars and man hours to investigate something that only costs us money and doesn't bring us any real value.

  • Kathy Kennedy

    This study was done before the S Curve was built over 55 years ago. Our City does not have the money to take on such a project. If we do, then they need to prioritize their needs as a City. Making a Boulevard and tearing down buildings is not going to do downtown any good. Also, tearing up Division and making it a Boulevard would only cause us to lose many of our historical buildings. The street is not wide enough to handle that much traffic without destroying those buildings. All this planning will cost tax payer dollars. Put these monies to a better use. Give us new streets where they are needed.

  • DailyDriver

    I drive 131 and 1-96 at least twice a day. Getting rid of the s-curve and creating a boulevard will be nothing but a pain in the butt. There is nothing wrong with the s-curve, but what about the rest of the roads. Concentrate on those. It is about functionality not curb appeal and it functions just fine.

  • 2013worldseries

    After 55 years and all the money put into the S curve recently, now somebody wants to designate how much on this ridiculous project. How is this going to improve GR? Many people can't even afford to drive because of gas and insurance let alone have their taxes raised for BS like this. I agree with the rest of the comments. There are many, many more ways to invest $ around here, namely fixing the roads we have.

  • Rikki

    An at-grade boulevard would mean more traffic lights and such. The s-curve is part of the EXPRESS way. Don't make it less than what it's supposed to be.

  • Bob

    I remember an April Fools joke about this several years ago, how they were going to "Straighten" the S-curve. Why would anyone think about spending money on this?

  • ken

    Andy Guy needs to keep his nose into his job title ~ Parking Commissioner. It's no wonder someone with that title could even begin to dream up this stupid idea. Park the idea now!

  • joshleo

    I think diverting 131 to 96 between Franklin and Wealthy and have it run over by butterworth bypassing the main center part of the city would be an interesting idea. It would still keep high speed traffic around the city but free up so much space in the city core for future development.

  • JamesG

    “more appropriate and visionary urban infrastructure" – that is what cost us the old city hall and our historic downtown. Waste of tax dollars.

  • Ryan

    one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. If I wanted to get through the city by not using an expressway I'd take Grandville Ave or Division. 131 is fine the way it is

  • Christopher Reader

    Despite the article, the plan wouldn't be just about "removing the S-Curve." All of the freeway infrastructure in G.R. is ageing, and most of it will need to be rebuilt within the next 10-30 years. These cycles take a long time, and that is why MDOT is beginning to look at a future plan now.

    The cost of rebuilding all of that infrastructure will easily be in the 10s of millions of dollars per lane mile – 100s of millions of dollars total.

    The freeways that slice G.R. have done a lot of damage – they've devalued property, destabilized neighborhoods, damaged our street level road system, removed huge blocks of land from the tax rolls, depressed investment, and contributed to sprawl.

    Many cities/states have saved 10s of millions by converting freeways to boulevards. They've seen massive amounts of investment and increases in property values when the freeways were removed. Blighted areas have been revitalized (after all, what person or business is going to build a house or office next to a freeway?) This is all well documented.

    If we know of a mechanism that will increase investments in our city, create a larger tax base, save money when it comes time to replace ageing infrastructure, and revitalize neighborhoods and blighted areas, why would we not consider that mechanism? Considering replacing/removing the freeways rather than reconstructing them is good policy and fiscally responsible.

    • Jonathon Arntson

      This guy said it best (and was polite and did not attack anyone's character.)

      I think a large part of the problem is the way many folks treat the freeway as a permanent structure. Like, it grew out of the ground and it would be sacrilege to do anything other than "improve" it. But…what about the city of GR? What about the people who live there? Aren't they more important than a diseased section of a freeway that has divided a great city?

  • George

    That what progressives do…they progress or change.
    Doesn't matter if its broke, or doesn't serve it's function.

    If something has been around awhile, it needs to go…you know..for progress.
    The money doesn't matter either, just raise taxes…you know..progress.

    • Christopher Reader

      George, are you saying that the conservative approach would be to ignore other options, and spend millions to rebuild the infrastructure that is there, at whatever expense? Because, to me, the most conservative approach would be to look at all options, and figure out what the cost/benefits would be before spending all the money.

      The reason this is even being proposed is because experiences in other cities show that there is great value in removing freeways, and less expense than rebuilding them. A very conservative approach, and one that happens to be good for business.

  • Mark F. Miller

    Historically transportation infrastructure has always been there to serve economic development. US131 (like many freeways that cut through downtowns) was partially envisioned as a way to help DT compete with the suburbs by allowing motorists to more easily access downtown commerce.

    When that failed, MDOT began to create business routes – like Business131 that starts at Cherry and winds over to Division and then up to Leonard. These business routes were meant to remedy the fact that the freeway did NOT actually help DT business.

    It is clear that the business route, is anything but a business route….and in fact, MDOT seems to be relatively unclear about what it really is or why they even have it. Strike two.

    Today, our city and its citizens are saddled with two attempts at fixing the balance between commerce and transportation….two attempts that have failed miserably, cost millions of tax payer dollars to maintain, and are anti-city in nearly every facet.

    Should we continue to allow our city and its transportation system (and its resulting commerce potential) to be in the hands of public servants designing and building public infrastructure (with public money), when they have consistently failed over the course of 50 or 60 years?

    Their approach and process has failed. The failure is exemplified in their reaction to this story, their blatant misunderstanding of the city in general, and generations of failed attempts at balancing transportation and commerce within an urban structure.

    This is why there needs to be a comprehensive, publicly-supported process in vetting the potential redevelopment of this corridor. A process that apparently these folks who we have trusted with our money, are not willing to even consider.

    This is not a "conservative" or "liberal" agenda. This is about building a better city AND demanding accountability in regards to the expenditure of tax dollars, now and into the future.


  • patulski

    GRMI made this list at as one of the 15 emerging downtown in the US:

    But what is telling is the slide about Milwaukee:
    In 2002, with the help of $45 million in government funding, the city dismantled the mile-long elevated Park East freeway and replaced it with a landscaped boulevard. According to the Congress for New Urbanism, per-acre land values within the freeway footprint had surged 180% by 2006 from 2001.

    If a business case could be made here as it has elsewhere, then why not do it?

  • guest

    If they want to spend a bunch of money to make room for growth why don't they start buying up all the dilapidated houses blocks at a time and sprawl out a bit. Tearing it down 12 years after sticking how many millions into it sound like government hard at work, and next week we can read about the city trying
    to balance the budget. What would it take to have people in charge have just a little common sense.

  • Freewaydriver

    I don’t think a lot of people realize what these freeways are like to drive during rush hour. The freeways in Grand Rapids are over 50 Years old and are falling apart, not only do they need to be widened for current traffic conditions and future growth of the city, but they need to be reconstructed anyway. I do think the s curve needs to remain a freeway but it definitely needs to be widened. HOV lanes could help too, or make M 6 a toll road if the states needs money that bad because there aren’t any toll roads in michigan. Michigan does not take care of their roads by reconstructing them or widening, instead they fill in little pieces and try to save 50 year old concrete. During rush hour the travel times are more than doubled due to congestion. Also the design of the 131-196 interchange is really outdated with all left exits, it should be replaced with something more efficient like a turbine. The state of Florida is much smarter with their roads. The s curve should be straightened as well as 196. Also to help congestion create toll lanes in the center of the freeway.