Above: An official “Natural River,” and Blue Ribbon trout stream, the Boardman River need not be diminished by a massive bridge in the name of traffic control, especially when better, cheaper options are at hand.
Here we go again. The Grand Traverse County Road Commission wants to spend $1.2 million in public money to study a new bridge over the Boardman River. And at the same time they are preparing to launch the new study, the Road Commission is asking Grand Traverse County voters to authorize a millage renewal that would generate more than $4 million for maintaining local roads and bridges. It’s a strange move considering our community’s resolute history in opposition to the Hartman-Hammond bridge.
It’s hard to understand what the Road Commission is thinking. Their own hired consultants have repeatedly—and recently—shown that a new bridge will do little to address traffic congestion and that investments in a list of lower-cost improvements in existing roads would have a greater impact on traffic. As if that’s not enough, the Road Commission is disregarding the damage the bridge would cause to the ecology of the Boardman River and its surrounding valley and the important natural recreational opportunities it presents.
The idea for a new bridge goes back to the early ’90s when transportation planners proposed a major highway bypass around Traverse City. Our organization, which at the time was called the Michigan Land Use Institute, joined with local partners to fight back because grandiose transportation projects like these had caused disinvestment in downtowns across the nation. Grassroots opposition resulted in the state backing away from the project in 2001. But the Road Commission wouldn’t give up even though MLUI made the crucial case that there are other more effective alternatives to address traffic congestion.
Eventually, the Road Commission did give up, and we launched the Grand Vision, a massive public planning process that brought together more than 12,000 people to envision the future of the region. That optimistic vision included prioritizing transit, expanding infrastructure to support walkability and bike-ability, and investing in our downtowns. As part of the Grand Vision planning process, nationally renowned transportation experts conducted traffic modeling on the Hartman-Hammond bridge and other transportation improvements. What did they find? Exactly what all the studies have shown: there are cheaper, more effective alternatives than a new bridge, like improving the existing roads, investing in transit service, and expanding non-motorized transportation options. How long will the Road Commission reject good ideas?
With all this in play, the Road Commission is asking voters to renew a millage—and, as you would expect, some serious opposition to the millage has formed. It’s a tough call because that millage includes the basic road maintenance funding for Traverse City and other communities. But people are fed up. They simply want the Road Commission to be more accountable to the community and fix our existing roads first.
Wherever you stand on the millage renewal, I hope you will join me in sending a clear message: it’s time for the Road Commission to move past the bridge and focus on real solutions.