By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) – Michigan is interested in possibly commercializing a couple of rest areas along a major highway in the northern part of the state.

The state Department of Transportation put feelers out Thursday to companies looking to form public-private partnerships involving rest stops, freeway lighting, bridge construction and timber management.

The two rest areas proposed for possible deals are near Higgins and Houghton lakes along U.S. 127 south of Grayling, a popular route for tourists. Ideas to improve the rest stops – one of which will be closed otherwise – could include opening restaurants and buying advertising space and naming rights, the state said. If successful, Michigan may look to make money from rest stops on U.S. 131 in west Michigan and U.S. 23 in the southeastern part of the state.

Under federal law, Michigan can’t commercialize rest areas along federal interstates.

“This is an information-gathering stage, the first step to starting a conversation about what’s possible in financing and building infrastructure,” state Transportation director Kirk Steudle said in a statement. “We’re looking for innovations that will save taxpayer dollars, improve service and efficiency and enhance public safety.”

The state asked for letters of interest by mid-August from the private sector. If there’s interest, the state would issue requests for proposals.

The projects identified for potential private involvement could let the state maintain assets that otherwise might continue declining because of a lack of funding, said Jeff Cranson, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. The two rest areas are in poor condition, not too far from other rest stops and not used as much, he said.

The state also is gauging companies’ interest in controlling highway lighting, doing some bridge work and thinning out forests along four state and federal freeways.

Lighting privatization proposals could cover either all 18,400 lights on state highways – excluding rest stops and some other facilities – or freeway lighting in metropolitan Detroit. Tunnel lighting just along I-696 in Oakland County and under Detroit’s Cobo Center is another option.

Cranson said new lighting would significantly cut energy costs, but that the state can’t afford to make substantial upgrades on its own.

The state also wants to see if there’s private-sector interest in securing long-term contracts to finance, design, construct and maintain bridges over Interstate 75 in Detroit and Oakland County and along I-94 in Detroit and Jackson and Berrien counties. The bridges would be expected to last 100 years by having materials such as carbon fiber composite cables.

Other potential projects include logging highway forest areas – 128 miles of U.S. 2 in the Upper Peninsula; 134 miles of I-75 in the northern Lower Peninsula; 78 miles of U.S. 127 in Clare, Gratiot and Isabella counties; and 51 miles of U.S. 131 in Kent, Mecosta and Montcalm counties.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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