Do we really need a Southbelt Freeway?

West Michigan Environmental Action Council says NO.

Doesn't matter whether we need one or not, we are getting one.

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The continuing story of our tax dollars at work.

They are building it as you read this. Considering all the pros and cons.....why?

The Southbelt Freeway has been planned for a long time. The intended purpose was as a bypass to the urban Grand Rapids area for those travelling east and west on I-96. It has had a long and rocky history, full of rumblings....

First they were going to build it. Then they were not going to build it. Then they changed their minds back. Then they were going to route it this way....then, no, they decided to route it a different way. Then they couldn't make up their minds how many access points to put on it, or where to locate them.

Those of us who will be (excuse us, ARE BEING) affected by the ensuing urban sprawl that is developing in its shadow have been waiting to see what the next change in the plan will be.

The final plan has placed the exchange for the Southbelt at the I-96 bridge over the Thornapple River. This means TWO new bridges over the river. The second of them is being constructed now. You can't beat this plan for a mess of runoff, ecosystem disturbance, silt, uglification, and an all-around poor environmental decision. It also has to be the most expensive design they could possibly have selected. And we suspect the selection of that location has something to do with the fact that the Kent County Airport (excuse us, the Ford Airport) owns the land that is the more sensible location for the exchange.

Two members of the Thornapple River Watershed Group attended the public informational meetings in April of 1998, and viewed the maps and engineering plans for the highway. There was no public input; it was simply a meeting where citizens could stare, aghast, at the plans and maps for this freeway.

News update: A new access route to the Kent County International Airport is being considered. Possible exits from I-96 are being discussed, and Whitneyville Road, recently repaved at considerable expense, is being considered as one. This newest access route would likely result in...yes, folks...yet another newly constructed bridge over the Thornapple River (at 48th street), and more urban sprawl to the east of the airport. Why are they considering this (spending our tax dollars) when an exit from the Southbelt Freeway, already in the works, is probably the most intelligent solution to the problems?

WMEAC is of the opinion that the Southbelt should not be built at all (see link below), and they are not the only ones who feel this way. The southern part of Grand Rapids and suburbs has no efficient traffic routes from east to west. The traffic jams at rush hour are infamous. The Southbelt would not relieve this traffic congestion, but would instead contribute to it by blocking traffic patterns, adding traffic, and creating urban sprawl. The opinion of many is that we need road construction plans that would address the existing traffic problems. The Southbelt is not the answer to those.

Since the Southbelt was proposed, a number of decisions were made by industry and business to locate in the Caledonia area. Steelcase built their new factory just north of here, and actually left a convenient corridor within their property for the Southbelt to flow through. Chunks of land close to the proposed freeway were purchased by Meijer, Foremost, and other companies. In other words, before ground was broken on the Southbelt, urban spawl had already begun in anticipation! Property values have soared (this is actually makes the residents feel wealthy!).

Caledonia Township Planning Commission has been valiantly trying to guide the growth of the Township according to its master plan. They have quite a job in front of them. The Southbelt is already making a heavy impact on the township. If things progress as we have observed for the last 25 years, M-37 will be fifteen miles of industrial strip mall, every stream in the township will become a stormwater drain, every wetland will be tiled and filled in, the Thornapple River in Kent County will be a large silt-filled ditch, and the rest of the township will be divided into two-acre lots with executive home sites. Is this really how we want to live?

When will Planning Commissions stop reacting, and start planning instead?

The ever-evolving plans for the Southbelt Freeway have been made, and some very poor decisions are now making their impact felt. Now they are building it, without public input. Brace yourselves.

Related Links Below.

Southbelt News Links

Driving Subsidies in the Grand Rapids Area.
The real costs of our society's addiction to driving. A study done by the Transportation Working Group of West Michigan Environmental Action Council. (See the Transportation Working Group. Thank-you, Richa.)

The increased incidence of residential developments and strip malls, linked together by newly-constructed highways that dot the once-pastoral farmland, point to the disturbing reality that urban sprawl is destroying our natural landscape.

Metropolis St. Louis: Urban Sprawl.
An excellent explanation of urban sprawl and its typical effects.

The Watershed Approach: Partnerships in Action.
Effects of urban sprawl on watersheds around the nation. This will give you a good idea of possible effects of urban sprawl in the Thornapple River Watershed.

I have personal experience with urban sprawl. Go see what happened to Detroit. A chilling and fascinating view of what could be our future. I grew up here! This makes me very sad. Especially relevant is this link.

Thornapple River Issues Home


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