This month you can weigh in on how local officials plan to tackle one of this region’s most pressing topics: traffic.
The Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study (TC-TALUS), the regional transportation planning agency, wants feedback on their draft long-range plan, which recommends how local agencies should spend scarce transportation dollars. The public comment period ends on August 31.
While there are many bright spots in the plan, it assumes we can build our way out of traffic problems with new and wider roads. It fails to recognize the role that demand-side strategies—like parking management, reliable transit and safe bike networks—play in reducing traffic at the busiest times of the day.
The long-range plan, which can be found here, outlines transportation priorities over the next 20 years. It’s required by the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to be updated every five years, and serves as a guide for local agencies like the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. TC-TALUS does not have decision-making authority. The local agencies, ultimately, must decide which projects to implement.
The plan places a special emphasis on road projects that are intended to relieve east-west traffic, including a controversial Hartman-Hammond road bypass, improving and expanding South Airport Road, and the MLUI-endorsed proposal to widen Keystone and Beitner roads.
Because it’s difficult to predict from year-to-year how much money will be available for transportation, the plan breaks up specific projects into two categories: projects that have funding now, and a “wish list” of projects that the board would like to see happen with any new funding that comes into the region.
The plan attaches cost estimates to the road projects, too. For example, it states that extending Hammond Road over the Boardman River to Silver Lake Road would cost about $98 million; reconfiguring South Airport Road would cost about $55 million; and widening Keystone and Beitner roads would cost about $110 million.
If building new and wider roads were a proven, effective way to alleviate traffic, this would be a great plan. But it’s not. In fact, studies prove that ideas like these actually create more traffic; hurt businesses growth and quality of life; and cripple transportation budgets at state and federal levels.
Instead, regions all over the country are embracing a new transportation strategy that looks at getting people where they need to go as efficiently as possible, saves local governments money, and attracts a new generation of workers who don’t want to depend on cars to get around. It focuses on lower-cost and more effective solutions that are proven to work and already carry public support. It prioritizes walking, biking, taking the bus, and sharing cars, and assumes that in the future, cars will be a tool, not a necessity.
While some of these ideas are mentioned in the plan, they are not given priority, mentioned in the executive summary, or given serious consideration.
In order for our region to accelerate the transition to a modern system, we need a long-range plan that prioritizes mobility and transportation options like frequent reliable transit service and better bike infrastructure.
We are pleased that this is an open and transparent process, and that the widely-supported Keystone-Beitner upgrades are on the project list. But we feel that the plan fails to emphasize the need to reduce traffic through demand-side strategies like express bus service on our heaviest travel routes, safer bike infrastructure for everyday commuters, and strategies that lessen traffic during the busiest hours of the day.
You can also attend public review sessions on Tuesday, Aug. 19. One will be held from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the NWMCOG meeting room at Michigan Works, 1209 S. Garfield in Traverse City, and another later that day from 7 p.m. to 8:30pm at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center.