Winter driving between, Grand Rapids, MI and Lansing, MI
October 8, 2010 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Winter driving between, Grand Rapids, MI and Lansing, MI on I96; How good or bad does it get?

I am hoping at least some of you are familiar with the route. I live in Grand Rapids and my spouse works here. I started working in Lansing and started commuting between two cities daily starting April 2010. It is one and half hour drive approximately on I96. During the summer months I didn’t find driving that much difficult. Sometimes I get tired by the time I reach home but so far I am able to manage the daily commute.

With winter fast approaching I am concerned about how much difficult it would be to do the daily commute. Does anyone have any experience driving on I96 during snowfall? Will snow get cleared often? Overall what would be your opinion on driving in this stretch during winter? I would very much appreciate any replies.
posted by auqaluna to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
During my grad school at MSU, there was another student in my program who commuted from GR every day and seemed to be able to manage it.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2010

I've driven that stretch in the winter many times and it's never been a problem. Snow is cleared frequently. The only thing that might give me pause is driving while the snow is actually coming down.
posted by fancypants at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2010

Unless it is magically different from every other freeway in Southern Michigan in the winter, it will have days that are fine and days (and especially evenings and nights) that are white-knuckle adrenaline nighmares.
posted by The World Famous at 1:01 PM on October 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think it is cleared pretty regularly; my friend made the commute nearly weekly during law school and road were always fine and the freeway and crap as soon as she got off in Lansing.

If nothing else, it should stay pretty clear from all the other commuters. You should be fine unless you're leaving especially early or late, or if it's one of the several blizzards we'll be having.
posted by motsque at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2010

I used to live in Lansing and now I live in GR. I used to make the commute every week while I was in college.

The World Famous is right. Some days will be clear sailing and some days will be nightmares. The nightmare days will be far less frequent but no one wants to be out driving in blizzard conditions, no matter the highway.

Do you have a backup plan if you get "snowed in" in Lansing? Maybe a friend you could stay with?
posted by morganannie at 1:29 PM on October 8, 2010

It should be OK. There will be some awful days to be sure, as mentioned above when the snow is still falling. The highways along the coast are notorious but once you get as far inland as GR the plows can generally keep up with the snow.

For such driving always carry emergency supplies in case you get snowed in overnight on the side of the road - some powerbars, water, and a blanket plus always have adequate clothing, hat, gloves, boots and a cellphone. You probably never need it, but just in case.
posted by caddis at 1:37 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a little tangential, but you may find this page helpful; it's FEMA's winterizing page. It'll tell you how to properly prepare your car and stock your trunk, so that if something does happen and you get stuck in a snowbank for a few hours, you'll be more safe and comfortable.

I lived in Michigan for most of my life, and if it makes you feel better, most of the skid-offs I've seen in winter didn't seem quite as dangerous as they did inconvenient. If you're well prepared for it, it could buy you some peace of mind. (I always had an overthinker's trunk. My friends laughed at it, but whatev. The day I needed it, I had crossword puzzles and handwarmers!)
posted by heyho at 1:39 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I lived in Michigan for most of my life, and if it makes you feel better, most of the skid-offs I've seen in winter didn't seem quite as dangerous as they did inconvenient.

Please temper what I'm about to say with the fact that I would not hesistate to move back to Michigan immediately if I had a decent job prospect there - the snow wouldn't scare me away in the least:

I grew up in Southeastern Michigan. I only ever had one "skid-off" on the freeway there. I and my passenger nearly died. Skidding off the freeway in the winter in Michigan is dangerous. When your car hits the bottom of the embankment and rolls onto its roof in knee-deep snow and slush, crushing the roof flat, it is more than just inconvenient.

Don't let Michigan winters scare you away. Michigan is an amazing place and a great place to live. But drive carefully and be prepared.
posted by The World Famous at 1:48 PM on October 8, 2010

Just to chime in with all the others.Lived here all my life and am completely use to the driving. Some days will be great others will suck!
Have good tires, a shovel in your trunk and some supplies in case your stuck.
I'd probably add anywhere from 1 to 2 hours more on the worse days. Sounds like you have a good handle on the commute already. I find the freeways get attention rather quickly.
posted by handbanana at 1:54 PM on October 8, 2010

I did this drive several times a week for 2 years. During that period, there were only two times that the snow was a major obstacle, and slowed me down notably (more than 30 minutes).

Speaking generally, this a major corridor for the western part of the state, and the snow clearing practices are just about as good as they get. At approximately the midway point between Lansing and GR is a truck weigh station were the state troopers hang out, and at the 1/3 and 2/3 points there are state funded rest areas, so the road conditions are very well monitored. There may be days when you want to leave an hour early, but there will be fewer of those in a year than you would think.

One thing that has changed since my commute has been the instillation of the wire-guards rails this summer. It used to be that cars would end up in the center median on some of the snowier, slipperier days. The guard rails that have just been installed will prevent that, and force the cars that would have normally gone into the center median and not impeded traffic into a position where they will probably be impeding traffic. I don't know how this will impact your commute time, but it was normal to see one or two cars in the center median on the snowier days.

Good luck, drive slow, and learn to love the 90 deg turn under the East Beltline when it's dark and icy on your way home.
posted by 517 at 1:57 PM on October 8, 2010

While you obviously have no control over road clearing, the thing that makes the biggest difference in winter driving is the tires on your car. The contact patch for each tire is about the size of your palm, so if the rubber is stiff and non-grippy, as "all-season" rubber is when it's cold, it's hard to get traction to go or stop. The best investment you can make to stay out of accidents is a good set of winter tires, the best at the moment being the Bridgestone Blizzak WS-70 or DM-V1, depending on your vehicle.
posted by Dasein at 2:05 PM on October 8, 2010

The World Famous has the best description: hit or miss.

However, it will be especially hit/shit the first big snow of the season, as everyone has forgotton how to drive in the weather. Consider calling in sick that day.
posted by ish__ at 2:18 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also be aware that if it's anything like the Lansing to Ann Arbor commute, no one will slow down significantly despite the weather. White-knuckle winter driving is bad enough, but doing it at 75 mph when you can barely see the car in front of you? Don't be afraid to be the one that slows down. My dad always said, it's fun to pass people in bad weather, but if you pass them and end up in the ditch they'll be more likely to just honk and wave instead of stopping to help.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:26 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You will certainly see people in the ditch every time there is a bad storm. And especially (as ish__ said) the first storm.

And I'd say most people slow down. But there are always going to be the 4WD vehicles speeding in the passing lane because they think they are impervious.
posted by morganannie at 2:38 PM on October 8, 2010

There are a lot of people with 4WD on I-96 who drive as though they are made out of magic, as opposed to relatively fragile squishy bits like the rest of humanity.

Resist their pressure.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2010

I used to do it as a 16 and 17 year old.

(GR had an all ages club DV8.) #LOL90s
posted by k8t at 4:30 PM on October 8, 2010

Caution live frogs - iirc, that route is slightly better than the Lan-AA run, in that people actually slow down a little when the snow is actually falling, or when there's a plow on the road. Well, other than the idots in 4WD SUVs who think that they're immune to the laws of physics.

It's a well-plowed route, but The World Famous has it -- there will be days when there's snowbanks on the side of the road and it takes you 95 minutes to make the run, and then there'll be days when there's snow blowing around and it'll take you 120 minutes. The worst part will be getting on to and off of I-96.

Make sure your tires are in good condition, maybe get some winter tires, keep a shovel and some birdseed or (non-clumping) kitty litter in the car, as well as a blanket and some food just in case the worst happens. I assume you already have a flashlight. (I've spent 30 years driving in MI winters, many of them in da Yoop, and have spun off the road exactly once -- when I hit a patch of slush in March.)
posted by jlkr at 4:39 PM on October 8, 2010

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