Improved U.S. Route 131 Interchange Would Benefit Kalamazoo Community, Graphic Packaging

After years of traffic bottlenecks and efforts by many local officials and businesses, Kalamazoo is finally poised to benefit from the federal funding necessary to reconstruct the U.S. 131 interchange located just northwest of downtown Kalamazoo. For more than 25 years, the townships of Kalamazoo, Cooper, and Oshtemo, the cities of Kalamazoo and Parchment, along with Kalamazoo County and our state and federal elected delegations have been having this discussion.

This long-awaited project would give the community – and anyone passing through the north side of Kalamazoo – the ability to get onto U.S. 131 and head south without first going north or without driving through residential neighborhoods or downtown to access West Main Street and connect with U.S. 131 to head south.

Graphic Packaging has supported efforts to construct this interchange for years and encouraged the state of Michigan and other regulators to support the project during our discussions about the $600 million expansion of our coated recycled board mill in Kalamazoo that will be completed later this year.

A reconstruction of the interchange would benefit both Graphic Packaging and the community. It would allow our company’s trucking partners direct access to southbound U.S. 131 and the ability to exit northbound U.S. 131 without driving through downtown Kalamazoo. This will reduce truck traffic on downtown streets coming to and from our operations and from many other northside businesses – reducing travel congestion and therefore improving safety. Finally, the new interchange will reduce the wear and tear on local roads – leading to reduced repair costs over time for the city.

We are thankful to Congressman Fred Upton (R – St. Joseph) for his efforts to include $14.7 million of potential funding in this year’s appropriations bill that will be considered by Congress later this year. This amount of funding paves the way for this project to finally come to life.

However, more funding is necessary for this project to become reality. Estimates indicate that the total project could cost just under $20 million. A part of the potential federal funding will require a local match that, the local community and state must raise at least $4 million in additional funds towards the project.

“The mill expansion was instrumental in getting key stakeholders back to the table to discuss the U.S. 131 improvements,” said Jill Bland of Southwest Michigan First. “After years of discussions we are getting close to generating the necessary funds to complete the interchange.”

We are encouraged by conversations that Southwest Michigan First is having with the community and conversations we have had with the city of Kalamazoo and the state of Michigan about contributing some funding towards this project. We are hopeful that the community and all stakeholders can get behind this project and encourage everyone to support to ensure that we do not lose this important opportunity.