Houghton council hears transit plan

HOUGHTON – Michigan Technological University students have been studying the area’s transportation needs and seeing how the Hancock and Houghton systems could be combined to move more riders.

Houghton City Manager Scott MacInnes and Transportation Director Jodi Reynolds, who have been meeting with the group for two years, reported on the project at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The plan included seven route buses going through both cities that could be operated for free. Due to a lack of commitments on funding, the plan was scaled down to a couple of routes.

“I believe the project is ending at the end of this semester, and I’m not exactly sure what the final outcome is going to be,” MacInnes said.

MacInnes said the city has a contract with Tech to transfer some students between Daniell Heights and the campus, which overlaps in parts with Tech’s shuttle service. However, he said, the university may be looking to get out of the shuttle business.

MacInnes said the next step would be to sit down with the university to define the city’s role with transportation around campus. One scenario he floated would be doing three rides for two hours in the morning and evening that would hit the biggest concentrations of housing.

“Hopefully we can get people that work in the university and that go to the university to get on a bus,” he said. “That would relieve some traffic congestion for us, it would help the Michigan Tech parking problem and give us a good indication how well this works.”

Similar services exist in Marquette and Grand Rapids, MacInnes said.

MacInnes said he hopes to have a plan in September.

The route buses have typically been under-ridden compared to demand buses. At Daniell Heights, he said, ridership remained low at 25 and 10 cents a ride. Then the city made the rides free after Tech subsidized the route.

“All of a sudden, it was crazy,” he said.

MacInnes said through the same grant that funded the Tech study, a bus is being fixed up next week with a GPS unit. Potential riders could then look up the bus on their smartphone to see the location of the bus.

In other action, the council:

met as the Rental Housing Board and approved a rental license for 404 E. Douglass Ave. Owner JJ Jiang said he had a tentative agreement with a couple with two children.

approved changes to the city’s sign ordinance to regulate electronic message board signs in the Tax Increment Financing Authority district. The signs shall be no more than 4 by 8 feet, must employ automatic brightness controls and can have a stationary, one-color message that can change up to three times a day.

approved an agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation in which the city will pay half of the $960 cost for a new light at Sharon Avenue and M-26. A blinking yellow left turn light will also be added.

heard a report from Department of Public Works Director Mark Zenner. The plows have come off the trucks. With the late winter, Zenner had to call for authority to haul snow in late April, the first time he could recall doing that in 21 years with the department. Either Friday or Monday, sidewalks will be swept. Water pumping is back to normal levels, but Portage Township sewer flows are picking up.

heard from Zenner the city dump will open on May 17 and go until June 16.

heard a report from Police Chief John Donnelly. In the previous two weeks, there had been 131 calls to service, 17 misdemeanor arrests, 18 civil infractions and two city tickets. Senior Walk is scheduled for this Friday; officers will be stationed differently with the closure of the B&B Bar, since students will not have to cross the Yooper Loop. Daron Kari and Nick Roberts received training for instructing in defensive tactics.

heard a downtown report from MacInnes. The Marketing Department will be moving from the City Center to the Wells Fargo building.

heard a report on the Copper Country Historic Fair at Dee Stadium from Clerk Ann Vollrath. The fair will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The city is looking for people to work at the fair 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday. It will be a paid position, and they will lock up at the end of the night. For more information, call 482-1700.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get people who know a little about history, or will learn about it, so when people have questions they can help them out,” Vollrath said.

held a public hearing on a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant for a new police SUV. Rural Development would pay $17,000 of the $45,000 cost; the city would provide the rest. Donnelly said another SUV had been the department’s first to handle the hilly daily beat for 25,000 miles without ending up in a repair shop.

agreed to fund the Houghton High School Senior Class graduation party. The class will get $500 if 25 students volunteer for a community project, and $750 if there’s 35 or more.