By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – You already drive through Kent, Ottawa and Allegan counties on the Gerald R. Freeway – Interstate 196 – and take The Lodge – named for former Detroit Mayor John C. Lodge – in Oakland and Wayne counties.
The Walter P. Reuther Freeway – Interstate 696 in Metro Detroit – already honors the legendary United Auto Workers president, while M-6 on the south side of Grand Rapids carries the name of the late U.S. Rep. Paul Henry.
Now some legislators want you to tool along the First Michigan Colored Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway – Interstate 375 in Wayne County – and along the Officer Eric Zapata Memorial Highway – Interstate 94 – in Kalamazoo County.
In Jackson, you might someday cross the Officer James Bonneau Memorial Bridge. And in Shiawassee County, the Graham Barlow Jr. WWII Memorial Highway – M-71 – could become your route through the village of Vernon.
They’re the first wave of what is a perennial stream of proposals to memorialize state highways and bridges for people and organizations, famous or not.
Legislators introduced more than 20 such bills in 2011-12.
Several became law, and thus you got US-31 as the Medal of Honor Recipients Highway in Allegan and Ottawa counties. And M-61 in Gladwin County as the Trooper Jeffrey Werda Memorial Highway. And the Veterans Memorial Bridge connecting Michigan and Wisconsin over the Menominee River in the Western Upper Peninsula.
Thus US-10 in Lake County is now the Sheriff Robert Radden Memorial Highway. A stretch of Interstate 75 in Genesee County got named for former University of Alabama running back and Flint native Mark Ingram II. And M-24 in Auburn Hills now remembers the late Bill Davidson, owner of the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Shock and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“This is a subject of a good bit of conversation,” said MDOT communications director Jeff Cranson, noting that Gov. Rick Snyder “would like to implement some discipline on this going forward.”
A new bill by Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso, would limit future highway designations to military veterans and members of the State Police who die in the line of duty.
Cranson said Glardon is working with the Snyder administration to establish new guidelines or “categories” of what can go on a state highway. “Simply put, we honor state and military fallen heroes on state highways, and local officials who have fallen are honored on local roads.”
Cranson said MDOT incurs no expenses from such designations because “the requestor of the sign is responsible for all aspects of the sign,” including installation and maintenance.
“Our only concern is the memorializing of routes that already have a memorial name,” he said.
The First Michigan Colored Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway bill would honor an African-American army unit that was organized by a Detroit newspaper editor and fought in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia during the Civil War. Later renamed the 102nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, it enrolled 1,446 soldiers between 1863 and it’s disbanding in 1865.
Sen. Coleman Young II is the lead sponsor, as he was last year when the proposal failed. Co-sponsors included Sens. Steve Bieda, D-Warren; Morris Hood III, D-Detroit; John Pappageorge, R-Troy; Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park; and Glenn Anderson, D-Westland.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, are pushing to designate part of I-94 in memory of Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Zapata. He was fatally shot in the line of duty in 2011. There’s a Facebook page with more than 16,000 “likes” supporting their proposal.
Meanwhile, Reps. Earl Poleski, R-Jackson, and Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, proposed the Bonneau Bridge to honor a Jackson police officer who died on duty in 2010.
Poleski said, “I was able to satisfy myself that Officer Bonneau’s family would consider the naming positively if it were to occur.”
MDOT guidelines control the placement of signs to meet federal requirements. For example, most signs for memorial bridges and highways are at welcome centers, scenic overlooks, turnouts, rest areas and car pool parking lot. Sometimes they’re posted at the approach to a roadway.
The state’s existing memorial highways include ones named for civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks; former U.S. Sen. Philip Hart; ex-Govs. G. Mennen Williams and Frank Fitzgerald; ex-President Ronald Reagan; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; American Red Cross founder Clara Barton; and explorers Christopher Columbus and Leif Erikson.
Others commemorate the Holocaust, Underground Railroad and a variety of military veterans’ groups.
The bills are pending in the Senate Transportation Committee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
By ERIC FREEDMAN