LANSING- More than two dozen communities across the state will see road and sidewalk improvements this year, thanks to more than $10 million in federal grants.
Thirty communities will receive the funds to create more attractive streets and expand pedestrian and bicycle paths.
"These are federal dollars that are set aside for enhancement and if Michigan doesn't use them, some other state will," said Ben Kohrman, director of communication for the state Department of Transportation. "We can't use this money for paving. It has to be for things like nonmotorized trails."
Sixteen of the 38 projects will redecorate main streets and sidewalks, while 20 projects involve recreation trails and two will promote historic preservation. Communities were required to come up with matching funds for each project.
One grant will repair the Langley Covered Bridge, the longest covered bridge in the state, in Lockport Township. The repairs include replacing the roof and fixing the road at a cost of more than $170,000.
"We're extremely pleased about the grant," said Bruce Jones, manager of the St. Joseph County Road Commission, which will do the bridge work. "That's a $120,000 that would have had to come out of our pocket to fix it." The county will pay the rest.
Jones said the bridge needs an upgrade because of high traffic and an old roof that's damaged.
"People like this bridge and don't want to see it go," he said. " We were given the money to do the work and we're going to take advantage of it."
Other projects will take place in Alpena Township, Douglas, Fife Lake, Negaunee, Metamora, Ludington and Detroit, which received the largest grant at $1.4 million.
Berrien Springs will use its grant to upgrade the downtown area. The project, which will cost almost $430,000, includes adding decorative bricks and concrete sidewalks, as well as landscaping, street lighting, crosswalks and street furniture.
"This will definitely dress up the downtown," said Scott Bormann, president of the Berrien Springs-Eau Clare Chamber of Commerce. "Right now, it's a typical downtown with plain concrete sidewalks. This will give it a more quaint appearance and, hopefully, draw more people."
Drawing more people to downtowns to boost local economies is the main goal of the projects, Kohrman said.
"Enhancement helps make people feel better about their downtown, which will help increase economic activity," he said.
Transportation Director Gloria Jeff said such projects create the option for people to move among businesses and neighborhoods without a car, which helps make the state a better place to invest, start a business, work, live and visit.
"Enhancing all of Michigan's transportation resources helps to grow Michigan's economy and create jobs by benefiting not only motorists and businesses who use our roads, but residents, tourists and visitors," Jeff said.
Korhman said the department decided where to award the funds based on other transportation-related projects in the area.
"If there's a project on a major state road through a downtown area, we try to give priority to them in order to coordinate the projects," he said.