As Michigan’s regional trails expand, crossing major highways is a growing concern. Such was the case in Ionia, where busy M–66 is the main north-south route through town and downtown. The original plan for Phase II of the Grand River Valley Rail Trail was to design a traditional trail crossing, but Prein&Newhof conducted a pedestrian traffic study that showed almost no available traffic gaps at the proposed M–66 crossing location during normal trail use hours. This convinced the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) that a non-motorized bridge, while expensive, was the right approach to crossing M-66.
The new ‘Bulldog Blue’ bridge (Ionia High School’s colors) is an iconic arch/truss bridge that welcomes people to Ionia. Because MDOT designated M–66 through Ionia as a super-load route, the new trail bridge has a 20–foot clearance over M–66 and spans 80 feet across M–66. The trail bridge’s deck is cast-in-place concrete. Both the bridge truss and the cable arch can support the bridge independently. The bridge approaches meet ADA standards, with a trail slope of five percent. They stay within the rail right-of-way and City-owned property, and a decorative retaining wall supports them. The railroad theme on the trail carries through to the M–66 crossing. An emblem on the bridge has a similar design as markers on the trail, and the light fixtures are like those of old railroad stations.
The trail follows the old Grand Trunk Rail Road rail bed within a 100-foot right-of-way, allowing gentle curves along landforms created to give an urban park experience. Ionia officials felt the new bridge should create a ‘gateway’ to the City. Complete with color-changing lights and a “Welcome to Ionia” sign, the bridge helps brand the City and create a memorable landmark to aid in economic development.
Construction and Maintenance
Grand Haven-based Anlaan Construction built the $2.35 million project, including the bridge and two miles of paved trail through downtown Ionia, in one construction season. Anlaan’s crew closed M-66 overnight while they bolted the bridge’s two halves together and lifted it into place. The Meijer Foundation’s Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Rail Trail maintenance endowment dedicates its earnings to trail maintenance and periodic inspections. This endowment covers trail maintenance and repair costs.
This project is part of the 125-mile-long Fred Meijer River Valley Rail Trail network, the fifth longest in the nation. The trail contributes to the economy of every community along its route. Popular trails create “Trail Towns,” where commerce and activity surround the trail. Nationwide studies show that trails improve the quality of life for residents and attract tourists. Studies show an investment in pedestrian infrastructure is an investment in safety, equal opportunity, economic development, and general health. Trails encourage people to use more healthy and sustainable modes of travel.