MDOT announced plans for the future of Empire Avenue, merging highways

BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich, (WNDU) - The Michigan Department of Transportation announced plans for the future of Empire Avenue near Benton Harbor and the eventual merging of two major highways.

The meeting took place Wednesday at Benton Charter Township Hall.

“Many people here really don't seem to be clear on exactly what the project entails, and I hope this meeting will help alleviate that,” resident Harold Cray said.

MDOT showed residents a project plan: to connect U.S. 31 from north of Napier Avenue all the way to Interstate 94 at Exit 33. The interchange will have to be rebuilt in order to connect the highways.

MDOT said it will also build several bridges along U.S. 31 but will be making one change.

“So, we are here to discuss the Empire Avenue bridge. We are looking at removing that from design feature and cul-de-sacing on either side of the proposed U.S. 31,” project manager Sarah Fedders said.

MDOT representatives said this will save the state and taxpayers about $4 million.

MDOT asked for residents' feedback.

Some said they worry about the cost, detours and the ability to access their properties, but others said they are in favor.

“The main convenience is going to be taking truck traffic off what should be local roads and putting it back on a four-lane expressway, because currently, traffic is being routed from U.S. 31 near Napier Avenue, which was really a local road,” Cray said.

MDOT representatives know this project will impact traffic flow, so they are working that out.

“We are paving some new routes. Some of the routes that would ... traffic would move from Empire onto these routes. One of them is Benton Center Road. We are updating that to current standards. We are also paving Hillandale and Britain Avenue to ease the traffic from empire,” Fedders said.

This project is a long time coming, 50 years in the making.

“It was really a shock when they said they were finally going to complete the project,” Cray said.

"But it’s been exciting, you know, we are wrapping it up. We are finishing it. That's the most exciting thing going on right now,” Fedders said.

MDOT said the project will be completed in the fall of 2022.