By Carol Stiffler
Deer Park resident John Waltman lives near County Road 407 north of Newberry, about two miles south of where the paved road turns to gravel.
That gravel portion extends for nearly 12 miles as the road connects with Alger County. Though it’s classified as an “improved road”, Waltman says drainage is poor, and backed up water can make the center of the road hard to find.
He’s been trying to get that stretch of gravel road paved for three years–mostly for the economic benefit to the county.
“Three years ago, I applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation,” said Waltman, who retired in 2005 from a long career in financial management. “I had to provide an analysis, in detail, for the project, and the impacts on the community. I submitted an application, and it was ‘recommended’. Then the following year, it was ‘highly recommended’.”
Waltman applied again this year, and results aren’t back yet. But state representative Sara Cambensy (D-district 101) backed his efforts and recently announced $6 million in funding to begin the planning and paving project work on County Road 407. The funds came from the federal government as compensation due to COVID.
“Sara Cambensy really championed this. She took it to the governor’s office,” Waltman said.
Planning work for the project will begin next year, and it’ll take about three years before the road can be paved. Extensive work and study on elevation, drainage, right of way, utilities, and environmental impact will have to be completed first.
While Waltman said the project has received widespread support from local governments, agencies, and merchants, some people who live along that stretch of road have expressed concerns that traffic will speed past their homes too quickly after the road is paved. Others worry that paving the road between Muskallonge Lake and Grand Marais will help some drivers avoid Newberry.
Waltman thinks it will be quite the opposite. He has made informal observations of the existing traffic flow onto M-123 from County Road 407, and said more than half of the vehicles already turn south toward Newberry. More vehicles traveling that road should mean more vehicles heading to Newberry for gas, food, supplies, or any other basic need, he says.
“The government puts out statistics,” Waltman said. “If you have a $10 million project, it will create so many jobs just in construction. Over the three-year period we will have hundreds of jobs created just for construction.
“After the job is completed, there’ll be some more traffic, and we’ll probably see some capital investment. There will be some permanent jobs.”