It’s decision time for the West Bloomfield Township Board when it meets Tuesday in to determine what to do regarding completion of the Northwestern Connector (NWC) project, which has been a topic of controversy since it began in 2003.
The at 7 p.m. Tuesday comes, according to the township, as the result an “ultimatum” issued May 3 by the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) to the township to accept one of three options to move forward with possible construction at the intersection of Maple Road and Orchard Lake Road.
The issue stems from a 2008 decision by the RCOC to deviate from its original plan to reconstruct Orchard Lake between 14 Mile Road and Maple as a six-lane, divided boulevard. The newly-elected board responded with protest and appointed an ad hoc committee to fact-find and evaluate all relevant information regarding the Northwestern Connector project on behalf of West Bloomfield.
In a press release issued Nov. 7, 2008, RCOC's public information officer, Craig Bryson, cited rising costs with right-of-way acquisition and road construction in addition to an unexpected decrease in traffic volume on Orchard Lake Road as reason to reconstruct the road as a five-lane road, as it is today, and build a roundabout at the intersection instead.
According to the township, the ad hoc committee’s biggest goals were to utilize $27 million in remaining funds from the Michigan Department of Transportation, federal funds and other sources acquired in construction of other facets of the NWC, as well as to find ways to reduce the cost of a boulevard at the intersection.
The committee has gone back and forth with the RCOC since then to address a dwindling lack of funds, current and projected, as well as less traffic, current and projected. In July 2009, the committee succeeded in its step of agreeing with the RCOC to develop a conceptual study for the foundation of a four-lane boulevard at a reduced cost.
However, according to the township, difficulties with the conceptual study presented by the Livonia-based engineering firm Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment Inc., including conformance with the township's Master Plan, led in May to the board being presented with three ideas. In documents made public last week, the committee wrote that “negotiations have ended” and that the board needs to decide on one of the three options, as the RCOC operates construction of the roads in the township.
- The first option includes the township moving forward with a conceptual study without regard to concerns voiced by the board at a cost of $319,000. This option also requires the township to foot the bill for any right-of-way or construction costs that exceed what's budgeted for the roundabout design, which the township doesn’t even support.
- The second option includes the RCOC moving forward with construction of a roundabout at the Maple and Orchard Lake intersection as well as a four-lane boulevard between 14 Mile and Maple at a cost on the local level of $3.9 million, to be matched by the RCOC, and utilizing $21.9 million in state and federal funds.
- The third option, described by the township as “not so much an option as the RCOC's stated plan of action,” should the board decide against Options 1 or 2, is to move ahead with “some boulevard construction” in addition to building a roundabout at the 14 Mile and Orchard Lake intersection. According to documents, “In early discussions in 2009, the RCOC had indicated that a boulevard without a roundabout would have to terminate somewhere near the Daly/Powers Road intersection.”
Representatives from the RCOC and Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment could not be reached for comment on this story.