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Kalamazoo gets a $38M federal grant to address flooding issues along Arcadia Creek

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt show the governor and other officials a map of the area the initiative will fund.  It will fund improvements to the Arcadia Creek Stormwater Assets and Downtown Transportation Network Stormwater Assets (two-way conversion).
Leona Larson
From left to right, Kalamazoo Mayor Dave Anderson, state Rep. Julie Rogers, U.S. Dept. of Transportation Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt, Kalamazoo City manager Jim Ritsema, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and WMU President Edward Montgomery look at renderings of the Arcadia Creek Stormwater Management project. The project was awarded a $38 million federal grant Thursday.

Federal Highway Administration officials were in Kalamazoo Thursday to announce millions in federal grants for 80 projects in 37 states. Three of those projects are in Michigan.

Nearly $830 million in federal grants will be dispersed across the country to help make transportation systems more resistant to climate change and extreme weather. The funds were part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Michigan’s portion of the grant funding is $50.9 million. It will pay for improvement projects to reduce flooding in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and to protect highways from flooding and other natural disasters in metro-Detroit and southeast Michigan.

“What is really clear is that our infrastructure that was designed and built in the 20th century is not capable of dealing with the participation rates that we see in the 21st century,” U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt told reporters.

Bhatt was in Kalamazoo to make the announcement with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other officials. Whitmer said the three projects will help the people who need it most.

“We know that when infrastructure fails, it is people who are living on the margins who bear the brunt of the cost - the displacement, the heartache, the heartbreak, frankly,” Whitmer said.

“We saw it. Whether it is in the flooding that happened in Midland or it is the flooding that's happened here in Kalamazoo or in downtown Detroit, for that matter.”

“When we make these infrastructure investments and make it more resilient, it disproportionately helps communities like this one and across our state.”

Kalamazoo’s portion of the funding is $38 million. Public Service Director James Baker said it will enable the city to finish a project with a $48 million price tag.

“On its own, that's probably something that's unattainable for the city,” Baker said.

“So, getting federal support is, is so important for us, the community to, you know, reinvest in this resilient infrastructure.”

Baker said the city is looking for additional funding sources to cover the balance of this project, and to improve other flood prone areas.

Baker said the Arcadia Creek master plan was started in the early 1990s to address flooding and storm water runoff. The city removed undersized, underground pipes that had held Arcadia Creek since about 1885.

“Creeks don't like to live in pipes,” Baker said.

Uncovering the pipes exposed the creek to natural light, and opened it up like a canal. It’s a process called “daylighting,” but in 1993 the project stopped at Westnedge Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo.

Federal funding will allow the city to remove the remaining 1885 pipe system that runs along the floodplain near Waldo Stadium. Here, more frequent and more intense rain events have caused more flooding. Waldo Stadium flooded twice in recent years.

The updated project will create a canal-style system stretching along Michikal and Stadium Drive to Oliver Street. And it will include a safer non-motorized walkway to improve pedestrian travel between downtown and Western Michigan University.

The Federal Highway Administrator said the work down in the 1990s was a bonus in the grant application.

“Particularly here in Kalamazoo, what we really liked is that there’s already a successful track record of daylighting this creek,” Administrator Bhatt said.

“So, we’re going to go further back up with that. Because we know that when we use nature-based solutions instead of just trying to harden everything and have them get overwhelmed, that was something that was really compelling about this particular project in Kalamazoo to hopefully deal with these increasing precipitation events that are occurring more frequently.”

Bhatt says the agency received applications for more than $2.5 billion dollars in projects. Thursday’s announcement was the first round of projects funded by the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation Discretionary Grant Program, which is called “PROTECT,” for short.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.