When the big scissors cut the ribbon at Monday’s opening of the $32 million I-96/Latson Road interchange, life as Livingston County knows it will be forever changed. The interchange – located smack dab in the middle of Livingston County — will quickly become its economic center, too.
The county has existed for so long with no dominant city, its identity split between Brighton and Howell. Livingston County, like the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz,” is finally getting a heart. Once beating, this new heart will open circulation arteries in areas long tucked away, letting loose a development bonanza unlike anything we’ve seen.
I pray it happens in a thoughtful, considered way, especially as witness to how M-59 around US-23 in Hartland Township developed.
Years ago home to basic freeway access and services, the area today is where pedestrians fear to tread, populated by cars, subdivision curb cuts, strip malls and hulking high-tension poles. While the signature SPUI (single point urban interchange) successfully moves traffic efficiently along M-59 and on and off US-23, it comes with a whole lot of cement.
Politely, the result is an incongruous gateway to an otherwise beautiful community steeped in history. Not so politely, it is easily the ugliest stretch of road in Livingston County.
I hope for much better for the coming boomtown at Latson Road/I-96.
Construction machinery is rumbling once again in housing developments stalled by the recession; more are in the works. There will, of course, be the requisite on/off-ramp hotel/motel, gas station, chain restaurant businesses. Great freeway access and high visibility make the new interchange perfect for a hospital or large manufacturer, too.
What else might come to the heart of the county long known as Michigan’s fastest-growing and among its most-wealthy?
Rumors for years have swirled around a major mall like Twelve Oaks in Novi or Briarwood in Ann Arbor coming to Livingston County. Given the success to the west of the Tanger Outlet Centers – Livingston County’s top tourist attraction, drawing over 2 million visitors a year — and to the east of Green Oak Village Place, is there room for an upscale, enclosed mall? If so, the area around the new Latson Road interchange could be perfect.
Whatever the developments end up being, the only thing for certain is that they will come. When they do, I cross my fingers that Livingston County’s new heart provides services and amenities, welcomes pedestrians, and enhances the natural beauty of the area.