GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A congressman disputes the state's contention that it's worth $318,000 in federal money to keep turtles from becoming roadkill.
Installation is expected to begin this week on a 2-mile-long fence along both sides of U.S. 31 in Muskegon, in west-central Michigan. It is intended to prevent hundreds of turtles, some of them protected species, from being killed as they migrate to nesting sites along the Muskegon River, which the highway crosses.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., questions why the Michigan Department of Transportation did not consider using the money on other projects "more related to the movement of people and products."
"Serious times require a serious approach to the very real problems Michigan faces," Hoekstra said in a news release issued Wednesday.
The 4-foot-high chain-link fence has been planned for two years. State officials consider it a relatively inexpensive solution to a problem that affects traffic safety and the environment of rare turtle species.
The fence will cover a stretch of road that is Michigan's deadliest for turtles and one of the nation's worst for the reptiles, Tim Judge, manager of a Transportation Department service center in Muskegon, said Thursday.
Two state-protected species — the wood turtle and Blanding's turtle — are common traffic victims, as are snapper, painted, box and map turtles.
Department spokeswoman Dawn Garner didn't know whether any drivers swerving to avoid turtles have gotten into crashes, but said: "There is definitely the potential for improving the safety of motorists."
The barrier is being financed through the federal government's transportation-enhancement program. Money from the program must be used to improve the public's traveling experience but cannot be spent on building or repairing roads.
Hoekstra, who has questioned the fence project since it was proposed, said the state should have petitioned federal officials to use the money for road construction.
"The state has not requested greater flexibility in how to spend federal highway dollars, and Lansing bureaucrats need to begin to think more creatively in how they address our state's problems," he said.