Grand Traverse Local Roads: First, Fix What’s Broken

March 6, 2019 |

Grand Traverse County residents have a chance to let the Grand Traverse County Road Commission know that now is the time to fix our existing East-West roads.

We’re pleased to learn that the Grand Traverse County Road Commission has extended through March 18th the public comment period for input on its new East-West Corridor Study. We strongly encourage Grand Traverse County residents to take the time to review the analysis of “Proposed Practical Solutions” that have been developed by the consultants to the road commission, and then provide your comments through the online survey. We at Groundwork have provided our analysis and comments below, as well as a brief overview of the long history of East-West Corridor traffic-flow debate.

You can review the maps of the corridor alternatives as part of the full presentation about the study here (scroll down for the maps) Open the maps, and study the alternatives before you attempt to complete the survey.

Groundwork has a long and extensive history with the east-west corridor crossing issue. Below is a brief summary of that history and a synopsis of Groundwork’s position regarding the road commission’s new alternatives:

History and Background:
Since our inception in 1995, Groundwork, formerly Michigan Land Use institute (MLUI), has been engaged in discussions about transportation mobility in and around Traverse City. Back in the ’90s the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) were proposing a traditional major highway bypass around Traverse City—the type of bypass that has caused disinvestment in downtowns across the nation, hollowing them out and leaving thousands of empty storefronts.

MLUI opposed the ’90s bypass and built a strong grassroots base of community opposition, which resulted in MDOT backing away from the project in 2001. However, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission continued to advance the idea of a new east-west corridor by proposing to connect two county roads—Hartman and Hammond—with a bridge over the Boardman River. MLUI and many citizens groups continued to object, pointing to the significant environmental damage to the Boardman River Valley and surrounding tributaries and the availability of several other mobility alternatives, by joining in a citizen lawsuit with partner groups that eventually halted the project in 2005.

Following the decision to halt the Hartman-Hammond Bridge, MLUI helped lead a community visioning process called The Grand Vision, which included a massive public input process. The Grand Vision engaged more than 12,000 people during a two-year process and resulted in a far-reaching vision that extended beyond transportation by recognizing that major public investments in transportation need to support other land use and community investment strategies.

DID YOU MISS Dr. Jonathan Overpeck’s video interview with Groundwork’s Hans Voss? Overpeck was on a Nobel Prize–winning climate research team and keynoted the recent Michigan Climate Action Summit, in Grand Rapids.

In general, as a result of this extensive public engagement process, citizens solidly supported transportation solutions that focused on improvements to existing road corridors and prioritized mobility improvements such as more sidewalks and trails, and improved transit options, in the city center. In the ensuing 10 years, Groundwork and many partners—the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), TART Trails, Norte, Disability Network Northern Michigan, and several others—have been engaged in supporting those concepts.  Only two years ago an important improvement was made to the road network with the replacement and upgrade of the Cass Road Bridge, in connection with the removal of the dam. There remain opportunities to better integrate this improved river crossing into the east-west road network.

Groundwork Position on Current East-West Corridor Transportation Study
Today the Grand Traverse County Road Commission continues to look for solutions to address “high levels of congestion and excessive delay for motorists traveling east and west along the [region’s] five key road corridors.” The GTCRC has commissioned a consultant group—OHM Advisors—to again look at corridor improvements that could alleviate traffic congestion.

The proposed ideas have not changed much in the past 25 years; there are still significant upgrades needed to east-west roads that are experiencing the most severe and frequent traffic backups—South Airport Road and Beitner-Keystone Roads. Also, the Hartman-Hammond Bridge is still being proposed as a solution. The Cass Road Bridge replacement is an important new opportunity that can be maximized.

of work our team pulls off at Groundwork? CHECK OUT Groundwork’s new program overview brochure. Download the PDF.
As Groundwork reviews the alternative corridors the road commission is presenting now, our preferred alternatives can best be described with two slogans—“fix it first,” and apply a “mix of fixes.”

What those phrases mean in the context of the alternatives presented is we prefer alternatives that FIRST improve the effectiveness of existing roads for motorists and “equitable access” for non-motorized users BEFORE building a very expensive and environmentally disruptive new bridge over the Boardman River. We believe strongly that the road commission should apply fixes to all of our existing east-west roads to maximize the investment in our current infrastructure. It would be irresponsible to consider spending taxpayer dollars on a new road and bridge project without first fully improving our existing roadways.

Groundwork recommends placing top priority on the three projects below, listed in order of emphasis:
1. Prioritize the “South Airport Road Crossing”—we prefer solutions that prioritize walking, biking and other non-motorized transportation, which would most likely call for a wide boulevard on South Airport;
2. Improve the “Beitner Road Crossing” corridor with new lanes and placing roundabouts at key intersections;
3. Improve the “Cass Road Crossing” connections using new or existing roads, and consider a wider bridge deck.

We strongly believe that a new bridge over the Boardman River is not necessary if these other road corridors and river crossings are improved. While it’s conceivable that at some distant point in the future, Traverse City area traffic might require a Hartman-Hammond Bridge, that situation is decades away, and we feel strongly that a bridge (with its related environmental degradation) will likely never be needed if we focus on the “fix it first” and “mix of fixes” strategies. Therefore we recommend NOT advancing the Hammond Road Crossing project to the next phase of study.


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