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Silver Beach traffic jams causing headaches

NOW: Silver Beach traffic jams causing headaches

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- St. Joseph residents are feeling growing pains as Silver Beach continues to become a popular tourist destination in Southwest Michigan.

Neighbors and officials are saying that traffic congestion in the area on busy beach days is happening as beach-goers wait to park.

Larry and June Bowman have lived near Silver Beach for decades, and they say the traffic has been a problem for a few years now.

 “Traffic will back up all the way to M-63 and Port Street,” June said. “It really takes away your freedom to go and come and do things in your life. We’d like to have people down here on the weekends, but you know they’re not crazy about fighting through this traffic.”

On a bustling day below the bluff, the Bowmans say it can take them up to 20 minutes just to get to their driveway.

“It doesn’t go to the top of the hill every beach day. I think it’s more inclined on weather and how many people are in town,” said June.

“When we came down here there was nothing down here. Nothing, the fountain, the carousel, the county park, there were just warehouses and old houses to be torn down,” explained Larry.

Now, tens of thousands of visitors make their way to Silver Beach each year.

As improvement plans for the county-owned park are in the works, like upgrades for the old Wally and Gertz concession stand being renovated into a multi-story café, restaurant and event space.

Some worry the plans will draw even more and traffic.

“The city is concerned about that, and on the other hand we’re glad that the parks department wants to improve,” explained Mayor of St. Joseph Michael Garey.

 Despite what some may think, the Bowmans say the traffic jam isn’t just a problem for people at the bottom of the hill.

“It does impact all city residents,” said June.

The couple says Silver Beach has tried to address traffic flow by allowing credit card payments for parking and adding an additional car lane.

“We sat back and said ok let’s see how this works, it’s not working,” she said.

Mayor Garey says there needs to be a frank discussion about whether the city or county is responsible for the traffic jams outside the park.

 Neighbors are also worried about the road rage the traffic is causing.

June was caught in a road rage incident due to the traffic video, and she captured on camera.

 A man actually got out of his car, while shouting expletives at her.

The Bowmans say this is the first year that they have seen road rage to this extent.

 June has suggestions for the county parks department for change.

“As always my suggestion is that we put meters into the park,” she said.

“They can pay on exit, that’s another option, or they can put the meters in there. Unless someone comes up with an extremely better idea, we’re all for it. Just as long as they can move those cars in there and get them parked,” June said.

The Mayor says this fall, the city’s Public Safety Department will do a full review of all of the traffic below the bluff. Once the results are back, the city plans to sit down with county officials to come up with a long term solution to the backup problem.

ABC57 did reach out to the Berrien County Parks Department about these issues, but did not hear back.

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