Support grows for improved Cass Road crossing

August 8, 2012 | |

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

Less than a decade has passed since plans were halted for a bridge across the Boardman River south of Traverse City.

Now work is under way to remove the Boardman River dam at Cass Road, and the days of the existing one-lane crossing are numbered. Groups that opposed the Hartman-Hammond project are voicing their support for a new Boardman River crossing at the site that better aligns with goals outlined in the community-led Grand Vision process.

“The Grand Vision transportation analysis found that replacing the Cass Road bridge in the existing location is a critical link in our regional transportation network, and that it should be maintained and improved,” said Andy Knott, executive director of the Watershed Center-Grand Traverse Bay.

The Watershed Center, along with the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, voiced their support in July for a new bridge in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team.

“Utilizing the existing corridor will minimize disturbance of natural features and habitat. Utilizing the existing road infrastructure, as much as possible, will also make most efficient use of scarce transportation funding,” the letter stated.

The Grand Vision project emerged in the wake of the controversial efforts to construct a bridge connecting Hartman and Hammond Roads over an undisturbed portion of the Boardman River Valley.

The bridge was initially considered a key part of a Traverse City Regional Bypass proposed by MDOT, but the idea proved so controversial that MDOT withdrew its proposal for the bypass in the 1990s. But the Grand Traverse County Road Commission pressed forward with the bridge project for several more years until it was halted by the legal challenge. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found that the Road Commission did not adequately pursue other alternatives that were less damaging to the environment and that would provide similar transportation improvement.

As a result of the ruling, groups both fighting and supporting the Hartman-Hammond bridge joined together to develop a citizen-led process to study alternatives—a process that ultimately became the Grand Vision. The 12,000 citizens who participated in the process voiced support for maintaining and improve the existing road system, increasing public transportation services between cities and villages in the region, and expanding infrastructure serving pedestrians and bicyclists both in and out of town.

Replacing the dam with a new bridge in the same location supports that vision.

“Because the other existing and anticipated Boardman River crossings are at Beitner Road to the south and Airport Road to the north, this crossing is a critical link in the regional transportation network and should be maintained,” wrote consulting firm Mead & Hunt in a technical report during the Grand Vision. “The benefits of maintaining this crossing include providing an emergency access in the event one of the other structures is closed, providing an alternate route for local traffic to cross the river and providing a non-motorized connectivity.

Jim Lively, program director at MLUI, said Cass Road is an important corridor across the river that deserves an upgrade.

“Improving the crossing, while removing the dam that caused significant environmental damage to the river, would improve our transportation network and enhance the environment,” said Lively. “It follows our group’s longstanding philosophy regarding transportation to ‘fix it first.’”

Traverse City Area Public Schools also estimated publicly that losing the crossing could cost them more than $100,000 a year in fuel costs to access their nearby bus depot.

Mary Gillis is the executive of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. She said the commission received more than $3 million in grant money to replace the crossing. Total cost estimates for the project range from $8 to $10 million; the federal government is expected to provide much of that.

“It looks like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now have a really good plan for a three-span bridge,” Mrs. Gillis said, adding that it’s also important to accommodate pedestrians and bikers.

Grand Traverse Baykeeper John Nelson sits on the county road commission. He expects members will support replacing the crossing at Cass Road.

“We want to maintain the crossing at Cass Road Bridge, and do it in best possible way,” Mr. Nelson said. “It’s consistent with the Grand Vision on transportation—to maintain and preserve the infrastructure without huge new constructions projects.”


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