MARQUETTE - The new road being built to connect the Michigan Iron Industry Museum with U.S. 41 may have positive effects for both the museum and the local economy.
"I'm confident that once tourist season is in full swing, we'll see a rise of attendance," museum Director Tom Friggens said. "It's been very exciting."
The three-eighths-mile road in Negaunee Township began in September and expected to finish ahead of schedule early next summer, will allow the museum to operate year-round instead of its current seasonal April-to-November schedule.
Work on a roadway connecting U.S. 41 to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum has made significant progress. This photo was taken late last week near where the roadway will intersect with U.S. 41. (Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)
Yearly attendance at the museum could triple according to estimates given by the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Lake Superior Community Partnership, Friggens said.
A combination of the new road and other projects at the museum, like the creation of 2 miles of outdoor interpretive hiking trails, will increase the length of average museum visits to two to four hours, Friggens said, encouraging visitors to explore the surrounding area.
Since opening in 1987, the museum has averaged 12,000 visitors per season, with a lower number of 9,000 for the past year due to gas prices, Figgens said.
Currently known as the Iron Museum Access Road, construction should be completed ahead of the projected September 2009 finish date, said Andy Sikkema, engineering manager with the MDOT Ishpeming Service Center.
"It's been going quite well," Sikkema said. "Now the project is in the hands of the contractor and we fully expect to finish ahead of schedule."
The only problem in construction encountered thus far was some rock that had to be removed, he said.
The $665,000 project is being underwritten by the Michigan Institutional Roads program, which sponsors roads servicing state-owned institutions like museums and is funded by money from the state gas tax, Sikkema said.
The project is an example of private and public enterprise working together, including the Michigan Department of History, Friggens noted.
"This is an important step in making the Marquette area more of a tourist destination," Friggens said.