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A Bridge Too Flawed

Omissions, lapses characterize Boardman bridge environmental study

April 2, 2001 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Despite five years of research and a total taxpayer investment of $1 million, the final environmental study of a proposed new bridge over the Boardman River near Traverse City still contains the same fundamental flaws that characterized the earlier draft version two years ago, according to an analysis by the Michigan Land Use Institute and the citizen-led Coalition for Sensible Growth.

The environmental study, completed in February 2001, is the first phase of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission’s plan to justify and build a 30-mile, $300 million highway bypass around picturesque Traverse City in northwest Michigan.

In 1996, the Michigan Department of Transportation reviewed the proposed bypass and recommended a route through an undisturbed portion of the Boardman River Valley, which would bridge one of the region’s prime recreation and natural areas. The county road commission and MDOT have since spent more than $1 million studying the environmental consequences of the new Hartman-Hammond bridge, which serves as the "most critical section" of the proposed bypass, according to road commission documents. The road commission and MDOT are using the bridge study’s flawed conclusions to seek approval from several state and federal agencies to build the structure. The Institute and the Coalition for Sensible Growth, a citizens group in Traverse City, identified numerous legal and scientific shortcomings in the latest Hartman-Hammond environmental study. The new study:

  • Confirms that the new bridge will not solve congestion, and instead will have the opposite effect by creating what would soon be the region’s busiest traffic artery.
  • Under reports the expected loss of farmland, wetlands, and habitat by focussing only on the bridge while disregarding the overall impact of the 30-mile bypass.
  • Ignores the technically sound "Smart Roads" alternative proposed in 1998 by the Institute and the Coalition for Sensible Growth. The citizen-sponsored alternative plan solves congestion by improving roads and an existing bridge across the Boardman River, enhancing public transit, and directing new growth to already urbanized areas.

The Institute and the Coalition documented these very same flaws in July 1999, in a written review of the road commission’s draft environmental study of the Hartman-Hammond bridge. That review attracted the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which not only described the citizen’s analysis as "credible and deserving of a response," but also formally objected to the poor quality of the bridge study.

According to the EPA, federal law clearly calls for a rigorous analysis of proposed alternatives to new transportation projects. Federal law also specifies that proposed roads be evaluated in their entirety and not in segments. The EPA called for much more thorough work in the county road commission’s final study.

Despite the EPA’s critique, the final study of the bridge retains the fundamental flaws found in the earlier draft environmental review, according to the Institute and its technical consultants. The Institute and the Coalition for Sensible Growth want the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to acknowledge the deficiencies, and to pause and reevaluate their goals before plowing more taxpayer money into the troubled study.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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