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Proposed Petoskey Bypass

Petoskey area residents to design a positive alternative

December 1, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
and Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Rick Kuner, a nationally-recognized authority on transportation planning, has been hired to assist area citizens and local governments in the "Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project" and design a technically feasible alternative to the proposed $70 million Petoskey bypass. The plan will focus on easing traffic congestion, promoting businesses in the center of town, and protecting the forests, farmland, and recreation areas in the countryside.

For as long as America has made cars, the nation's program for moving people and goods from here to there has centered on three goals: Roads. New roads. More and wider roads. As the nation prepares to enter a new century, it's becoming ever more clear what the road-dominated transportation policy has delivered -- unparalleled traffic congestion, fouled air, neighborhoods divided by superhighways, and development that sprawls across the countryside.

It doesn't have to be this way. Courageous and intelligent planning for growth can yield prosperous downtowns, thriving rural areas, and ways to get around that produce smiles instead of headaches.

One of the places where the need for intelligent transportation planning is most urgent is Petoskey. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) wants to build a $70 million, 9.5 mile-long bypass through farmland outside the city, mainly to ease summertime congestion and predicted long-term traffic growth on US-31, which runs along Petoskey's Lake Michigan shoreline.

MDOT traffic counts from 1990-1992 indicate the totals on US-31 in downtown Petoskey ranged from 24,600 daily trips in the winter to 34,000 in the summertime. Using the bypass route studied in 1994, the agency projects that downtown summer traffic trips would drop to between 23,800 and 26,600.

MDOT and Emmet County first proposed a Petoskey bypass in the early 1970s. In 1986, some business and political leaders in Emmet County began heavily promoting the project, with the familiar promises of a bright future that often accompany such huge public works expenditures.

But area residents familiar with other bypassed cities said the project will suck business from Petoskey's core and fling it to a wasteland of parking lots and big box stores at the urban edge. The result, they claim, will be to fill in what is now a wondrous landscape of forested hills and farmland with an oppressive procession of lube joints, fast food fry pits, monotonous housing developments, and garish plastic signs.

Making a Choice

Fortunately, Petoskey residents have a choice in deciding what their future will be like. The Institute, assisted by area residents and officials from Bear Creek Township, has launched the "Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project." The goals of the project are to ease congestion, promote businesses in central Petoskey, and protect the forests, farmland, and recreation areas in the countryside.

Rick Kuner, president of New Alternatives in Oak Park, Illinois, and a nationally-recognized authority on transportation planning, has been hired to assist the project. Mr. Kuner's credentials include a central area transportation plan for Flint, a thoroughfare master plan for Livonia, and an analysis of the costs to provide public services and infrastructure for the sprawl that would result from a proposed Route 53 Tollway around Chicago.

At a January 11 public meeting, Petoskey residents had their first opportunity to participate in the project by helping identify workable solutions to traffic congestion. Mr. Kuner will compile the results of the meeting in a report to be published by March. He then will use the community's suggestions to develop a comprehensive transportation plan that addresses congestion while also preventing sprawl. Such a technically competent citizen-based plan is necessary to provide a credible alternative to the state's bypass proposal.

"Residents are very concerned about the adverse effects that the bypass might have," said Bill Petzold, who lives just north of Petoskey. "The prospect for farmland destruction, commercial development at every interchange, and a highway resembling I-75 is disturbing. Also the proposed bypass comes to an abrupt end near the intersection of US-31 and M-119, and I'm very concerned about the increased traffic it will funnel onto these two roads."

Different Routes

Many Petoskey residents have long opposed the bypass approach because of its potential to promote sprawl and weaken the downtown. Farmers and many other township residents have also fought the project, which would cut a right-of-way wide enough for four lanes of traffic through one of the healthiest farm economies in northern Michigan.

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