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MLUI Position: Cass Road Bridge, existing roads, should be prioritiesPrint

Thriving Communities | June 13, 2013 | By MLUI

A motorist waits to cross the narrow, one-lane bridge along Cass Road in Grand Traverse County.
A motorist waits to cross the narrow, one-lane bridge along Cass Road. 

Grand Traverse County road officials are balking at a seemingly straightforward decision to replace the failing Cass Road Bridge with grant money already in place. Instead some are suggesting they pursue a controversial, massively expensive Hartman-Hammond Bridge project that was previously denied necessary state permits amid strong public opposition.

The Michigan Land Use Institute and several environmental groups are on record supporting the replacement of Cass Road Bridge as an integral crossing for businesses, residents and local schools. MLUI continues to oppose the Hartman-Hammond project as too environmentally damaging, more expensive than other viable and publicly supported alternatives, and contrary to findings of the comprehensive Grand Vision Land Use and Transportation Study.

MLUI advocates for using limited transportation dollars to advance the fiscally responsible and community-led solutions supported within the Grand Vision study, rather than ignoring those findings and resurrecting hugely expensive and unnecessary public investments in new construction projects.

MLUI is committed to improving mobility and accessibility on existing important road corridors, public transit, trails and sidewalks, and we’re already seeing results in this direction: Regional transit agencies are collaborating to improve service, new trails are being connected, and complete streets are being created to reduce local traffic congestion by improving pedestrian and bicycling connectivity. MLUI also supports using scarce transportation dollars to improve existing roads, including Division Street, South Airport Road, and the Keystone-Beitner connection.

“We would like to see road commissioners follow a fiscally responsible ‘fix it first’ approach,” says MLUI Program Director Jim Lively. “As the state works on transportation funding solutions, we want to make sure that we are using dollars to improve our existing broken roads, not build new ones.”

The road commission’s lack of support for replacing the Cass Bridge is puzzling given the availability of funds and public sentiment. A recent scientific public survey conducted as part of the Grand Vision indicated that 86% prefer repairing and improving existing roads over expanding capacity with new and wider roads. Residents are also highly supportive of future investment in trails, sidewalks and public transportation, with 80% indicating they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that future investments in transportation should include trails and sidewalks “even if it means some roads aren’t widened.” Also, 75% indicated they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that future investments in transportation should include more public transportation, “even if it means some roads aren’t widened.”

Consideration of the Hartman-Hammond project is equally puzzling. The project was halted—amid widespread objection and ultimately litigation from community members—when the DEQ would not approve the wetland permit because less environmentally damaging “feasible and prudent alternatives” existed. Nothing has changed in the years since, other than the rising cost of the project, and a comprehensive land use and transportation study that clarified the feasibility of other projects.

Also, the condition of the Cass Road Bridge has continued to deteriorate. For the past several years the bridge has received the lowest possible safety rating. If the rating is lowered any further, officials will shut it down. The Boardman Dam on which it sits is slated to be removed, and therefore federal funds are available to replace the bridge only in its current location. The dam removal implementation team is hiring engineers for the dam removal and needs to know if the Road Commission intends to replace the Cass Road Bridge when the dam is removed.

The Road Commission meets again on June 27, which may be commissioners’ last opportunity to affirm support for Cass Road Bridge or risk losing access to the dedicated critical bridge funds, and further reducing connectivity.