TRAVERSE CITY — A necessary evil.
That's how business owners along a 1.5-mile stretch of U.S. 31 North view upcoming road work that will snarl traffic this year on the five-lane thoroughfare.
"It'll definitely have an impact, probably more so on our locals than it would on the visitors," said Tim Olson, general manager at Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf, a miniature golf course tucked along U.S. 31 in East Bay Township. "Visitors will come to Traverse City no matter what, but locals will try to stay away. It'll be especially hard on basically everyone that's in that area."
U.S. 31 from Three Mile Road to Holiday Road will be reconstructed starting next month. The road's five traffic lanes will be reduced to two while the existing road, which is concrete covered in asphalt, is replaced with a road made of gravel covered in asphalt.
Michigan Department of Transportation officials met with business owners along the corridor for about two years to discuss a project scheduled to start April 6 and continue through June 27. If the work isn't completed by then, the entire stretch will reopen until after Labor Day, when construction will resume.
Construction crews typically will work Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
MDOT officials said they wanted to work with businesses -- a melange of hotels, restaurants, a bike shop and more -- as much as possible. They'll ensure local businesses can still be accessed during the construction process.
"It's really going to be about as good as it can get and we're going to try and get in and out as fast as we can," said Nick Broad, a project manager for Team Elmer's.
MDOT contracted with Elmer's to do the $10.3 million project funded by a combination of state and federal dollars. MDOT typically develops project plans in-house, but for this project state road officials included Elmer's personnel in the planning stages.
Planning included how to approach the project during the tourist-heavy mid-summer months.
"We were able to compress the schedule and suspend all work operations for July and August," said David Pax, construction engineer for MDOT.
Red Mesa Grill will be in the thick of construction, and restaurant general manager Tim Middaugh is apprehensive about its potentially negative affect on business. He suspects traffic condensed into two lanes will deter some would-be customers, particularly during rush hours.
"Work's supposed to be done by July 1, but between now and then I know it's going to kill business," Middaugh said. "There's lots of concerns, but we all are pretty much in agreement that we know it needs to be done because the road is (bad)."
John Walter, lead ranger at Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park, is on board with the project.
"I'm pleased, you know, because they intend to add a nice sidewalk the whole length to the campground site and that will be a big benefit alone," Walter said. "The road needed the work so they've got to do it when the weather's good and we've got to put up with it.
Walter said visitors have asked him about the work but the project hasn't seemed to prompt cancellations.
MDOT spokesman James Lake said the work could cause delays of up to 30 minutes, especially during rush hour. An average of 36,000 vehicles pass along the road every day.
Another heavily traveled stretch is set for road work this year, too: resurfacing of U.S. 31 between Holiday Road and the Grand Traverse Resort is scheduled to begin after Labor Day.
MDOT will host a public meeting about the construction on March 25 at East Bay Township Hall at 5:30 p.m.