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Road Commission Fails to Reveal Government, Citizen Opposition to Bridge Plan

Federal highway agency asked to withdraw support for new road and bridge

October 16, 2001 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  The Michigan Land Use Institute and its partners proposed a technically sound alternative transportation plan that reduces environmental harm and would strengthen the economy of Traverse City’s beautiful and walkable downtown.
The Grand Traverse County Road Commission neglected to tell state and federal agencies that the Traverse City Commission opposes the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project, according to a recently released federal document. The city sent its letter of opposition to the road commission in May 2000, but the road commission ignored a legal requirement to include the letter in its final road and bridge study, published in February 2001.

The federal document also revealed for the first time that 60 percent of public comment on the road commission study opposed building the road and bridge and that "Smart Roads Grand Traverse Region," a citizen-led alternative transportation plan had "considerable local support."

The details emerged in the Federal Highway Administration’s "Record of Decision" approving the bridge project on August 9, 2001. That decision authorized the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to purchase right-of-way and design the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge in Garfield Township, south of Traverse City, Michigan.

The proposed four and five-lane project would reroute and widen Hartman Road, build a 200-foot bridge over the Boardman River, and connect it to Hammond Road and a widened Three Mile Road.

In light of this new information, the Michigan Land Use Institute and its regional partners formally requested on September 27, 2001 that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) withdraw its approval of the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project.

The environmental groups also found that the road commission failed to fully and accurately assess the likely damage to two regional gems — the Traverse City State Park and the Boardman River Valley — if it builds the road and bridge, according to new information obtained by the Institute and its partners.

The environmental groups asked the Lansing office of FHWA to order the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to revise its study to accurately reflect the benefits and damage related to each of the road building alternatives it considered. The groups believe that state and federal law requires much more complete and accurate work before any road project can be approved for construction. For years the groups have questioned the minimal amount of congestion relief offered by the road and bridge project and the extensive damage it would cause in the Boardman River Valley and across the Grand Traverse Region.

The Institute made the request in partnership with three Grand Traverse regional organizations — the Coalition for Sensible Growth, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and the Traverse Group of the Sierra Club — as well as the Environmental Law and Policy Center, based in Chicago.

"Only now is the public told that there’s considerable support for ‘Smart Roads,’ and majority opposition to the bridge from the Traverse City Commission and from residents who commented on the study," said Ken Smith, co-founder of the Coalition for Sensible Growth. "Doesn’t the majority’s will matter to the road commission?"

The Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project was to serve as the first phase of the Traverse City bypass, a $300 million, 30-mile highway across the recreational lands of Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties. In August the Institute, the Coalition, NMEAC, and the Sierra Club joined dozens of residents in celebrating the defeat of the bypass. The road commission, however, continues to pursue the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project despite the collapse of the larger bypass plan.

"The Grand Traverse County Road Commission has spent six years and $1 million in taxpayer money to justify paving, filling, and polluting the region’s prized places," said Kelly Thayer, the Institute’s transportation project coordinator. "After all this time and expense the road commission’s study still fails to reveal all the damage that would result to the river valley and the state park. The public deserves and the law requires much better work."

In the September 27 request to FHWA, the Institute and its partners cited new evidence regarding the Grand Traverse County Road Commission’s February 2001 road and bridge study. The groups contend that the study:
  • Neglected to reveal the Traverse City Commission’s opposition to the project and the full level of public support for the "Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region" alternative. Sixty percent of the public comments on the study opposed the road and bridge. Meanwhile, "Smart Roads" received "considerable local support," said the Record of Decision.

"Smart Roads" is an innovative, citizen-led program to meet the Grand Traverse Region’s transportation needs in the 21st century. It proposes to remedy congestion by redesigning current roads, improving public transit, and promoting urban growth in areas that already are developed.

  • Failed to consider how the increased would heighten noise, air, and water pollution at the Traverse City State Park. FHWA’s Record of Decision discusses impacts to some protected lands but is silent about the state park.

  • Failed to devise an effective plan to re-create acres of wetlands that would be filled by the road and bridge project, causing further damage to the Boardman River and its valley. Michigan Wetland Mitigation and Permit Compliance Study Final Report, a new Michigan Department of Environmental Quality study, says that every wetland mitigation project it reviewed failed when attempting to create a forested wetland. That is the same type that would be destroyed in the Boardman River valley.

"The Boardman River, its valley, and wetlands are full of life," said Monica Evans, chair of the Traverse Group of the Sierra Club. "They provide daily enjoyment to adults and children who like to fish, swim, canoe, and hike along the many nearby pathways. Ruining this special area cannot possibly enhance our region’s quality of life."

See also:

The Institute’s request to FHWA to reconsider its decision

Kelly Thayer manages the Institute's statewide transportation policy reform project. Reach him at kelly@mlui.org.

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