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Detailed Alternatives to the Petoskey Bypass

Modernize U.S. 31, develop new express route and truck route

June 1, 2000 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Petoskey area residents will long remember 1999 as a turning point in the debate over whether to build a highway bypass through the countryside. No more will neighbors ask each other, "Are you for or against the bypass?" Instead, the question becomes: "What's the best option for easing congestion in Petoskey while maintaining its quality of life?"

For at least the last 13 years, the Michigan Department of Transportation insisted that plowing a $70 million bypass through thriving farmland was the only choice. Many residents rejected this as an unfair proposal: either support the bypass or the state will do nothing at all.

Now Petoskey area residents have real alternatives, which they designed themselves with help from the Michigan Land Use Institute and its Chicago-area consultant New Alternatives, Inc. Their vision is to improve existing roads while maintaining distinct areas of urban and rural development.

These ideas, contained in the latest report by New Alternatives, are to:

  • Modernize U.S. 31, its intersections, and adjoining roads.

  • Develop a new Express Route linking local roads.

  • Create a new Truck Route that avoids downtown Petoskey and Bay View.

Take notice: Residents have advanced a serious challenge to the bypass and its one-size-fits-all solution for a one-of-a-kind community.

The Petoskey Project

The Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project is intended to help residents and local government leaders develop a credible, cost-effective, and environmentally sensitive program for moving people and goods in Emmet County. The $65,000 project is funded by Institute members and the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.

The goals are to:

  • Develop a feasible alternative transportation and land use plan for the Petoskey region.

  • Advance alternatives to the proposed Petoskey Bypass or significantly amend its design to enhance neighborhoods and minimize damage to the environment.

  • Include Emmet County in a statewide transportation and land use coalition that is working to ease traffic congestion, curb sprawl, rebuild cities, conserve farmland, reduce energy demands and pollution, and protect natural resources.

  • Promote public policy to reform state transportation planning so that it accurately reflects citizen's ideas and promptly identifies a community's transportation needs and their solutions.

Detailed Alternatives to the Petoskey Bypass
The traffic problem in Petoskey stems primarily from the area's success in attracting visitors. According to the state Department of Transportation, traffic peaks in the summer. Meanwhile, numerous residents note that more visitors than ever are coming to enjoy the fall colors and winter sports.

Here, in detail, is what New Alternatives and the Institute recommend to manage traffic growth, based on public input and technical analysis:

  • Modernize U.S. 31, its intersections, and adjoining roads.

Studies show that more than 80 percent of Petoskey area motorists either begin or end their journeys in Petoskey, rather than just passing through. Therefore, to ease congestion, investments should continue to be made to upgrade existing roads by expanding intersections, adding turn lanes, and computerizing traffic lights.

Traffic signals on U.S. 31 should be improved to respond to actual traffic conditions at any given time. Computer-controlled traffic signals can monitor where the greatest traffic is and speed it along with longer-lasting green lights. In addition, these changes to key intersections are recommended:

1. U.S. 31 and U.S. 131 Add an additional eastbound lane on U.S. 31-North so that two lanes turn left and a third lane turns right. Consider prohibiting through travel and left turns from westbound Charlevoix Street.

2. U.S. 31 and Mitchell The intersection presently has the capacity to handle 30 percent more traffic than exists today. Computerized traffic signals will increase its capacity even more.

3. U.S. 31 and Division The intersection is controlled by stop signs on Division. A traffic signal is recommended if the intersection is found to meet state criteria. Even with a traffic signal, however, the intersection still will be near its traffic-handling capacity unless it is widened and more room is given to vehicles waiting to turn left from U.S. 31 onto southbound Division.

4. U.S. 31 and M-119 The intersection is near its traffic capacity. Computer-controlled traffic signals and the proposed Express Route and Truck Route will help divert some traffic away from this intersection.

  • Develop a new Express Route linking local roads.

Creating an Express Route offers the advantages of re-investing in existing local roads and minimizing environmental damage by limiting new construction.

The current Petoskey area road network has several major north-south streets and relatively few east-west streets. In particular, there is a noticeable east-west gap across the River Road corridor. The proposed Express Route would enhance east-west traffic flow around Petoskey.

Using the Express Route, motorists would travel along Lake Grove and Intertown roads with a new link to Click and Cedar Valley roads and another new connection to Manvel Road. The existing 66-foot right-of-way along Intertown Road is wide enough for an Express Route with two 12-foot-wide lanes, and shoulders. Motorists would travel at 50-55 mph. A traffic signal should be considered where the Express Route would cross U.S. 131. Emmet County could post signs at both ends of the Express Route to encourage pass-through travelers on U.S. 31 to avoid downtown.

Sterzik Road could be extended to serve as an additional east-west road in the long-term future, but would require substantial new construction.

  • Create a new Truck Route that avoids downtown Petoskey and Bay View.

Residents frequently express concern about the volume of truck traffic on U.S. 31 through downtown Petoskey and Bay View, a National Historic Landmark. A new Truck Route could help lessen truck traffic through these communities along Little Traverse Bay.

Some trucks already use Bear River Road, from the Emmet-Charlevoix county line, north to River Road and eventually to Division Road and onto U.S. 31. However, this presents difficulties because Division Road includes a steep hill and skirts Bay View.

A better Truck Route is to connect River Road to the proposed Express Route at Click Road, allowing traffic to head either east or west without passing through downtown or Bay View. Local governments and the state Department of Transportation could agree to ban pass-through truck traffic in the downtown and Bay View once the Express Route is open.

The Transportation and Land Use Connection

Community Concerns
Many Petoskey area residents are concerned that the state-proposed bypass would invite more sprawling development, weaken downtown businesses, and ruin farms and wetlands. Moreover, the new highway is likely to increase traffic congestion because more people will drive more cars to destinations spread farther apart.

Residents fear the proposed Petoskey Bypass would:

  • Degrade rural valleys, farms, and scenic views.

  • Ruin a historic agricultural district that produces $10 million in farm products every year, carve up open space, and harm two world-class trout streams.

  • Increase safety hazards for farmers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

  • Cause pollutants from road construction and development to run off into freshwater marshes in the Bear River and Tannery Creek watersheds, which empty into Lake Michigan.

  • Aggravate congestion at intersections the bypass will cross, including U.S. 31, M-119, Manvel Road, and Pickerel Lake Road.

New Recommendations
To perform successfully, roads and adjacent land must be managed together. Managing one without the other can lead to more accidents, congestion, delays, and poor service.

The New Alternatives report recommends that local governments:

  • Encourage development in villages or urban centers.

  • Prohibit commercial strips along highways.

  • Limit development along primary roads in rural Emmet County.
  • Maintain a minimum distance between driveways to reduce accidents.

  • Minimize the number of curb cuts into main roads by combining commercial entries and exits.

  • Develop bicycle and pedestrian master plans.

Funding for Alternatives

In 1996, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak moved legislation through Congress to provide more flexibility in how Michigan spends $28 million in federal funds that were earmarked for the Petoskey Bypass. The law specifically allows the money to be spent to "upgrade existing local roads" in the Petoskey area. The alternatives proposed by New Alternatives are intended to qualify for federal funds under Congressman Stupak's legislation.

The Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project

A Four-Phase Approach
The Michigan Land Use Institute launched the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project in October 1998.

In Phase One, New Alternatives, our consulting firm, recommended the study of improvements to U.S. 31 and its adjoining roads and the creation of a new Express Route relying mostly on existing local roads.

During Phase Two, New Alternatives and Institute staff members traveled to Petoskey several times and studied the area's transportation system. In May and June, we directed weekend workshops where residents and local leaders described their ideas for easing congestion while maintaining the region's scenic beauty. In late August, New Alternatives produced a detailed report that contains maps and specific recommendations for updating and improving the Petoskey area's transportation system. (See summary inside.)

In Phase Three, to be finished in November, New Alternatives will compare the performance of the proposed alternatives with the performance of the proposed Petoskey Bypass.

Phase Four will include presentations by New Alternatives and Institute staff to the community and local governments.

About the Michigan Land Use Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, nonprofit research, educational, and service organization operating in the public interest. The Institute is helping to frame an optimistic message about the need to reform land use policy that is pro-business, pro-community, and pro-environment.

The success of the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project is based entirely on the courage of residents and elected leaders to support reasoned alternatives to conventional thinking about moving people and goods.

For more information, to get a copy of the full New Alternatives report for Petoskey (free to members, $5 to nonmembers), or to join the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project, contact Kelly Thayer, Michigan Land Use Institute, 845 Michigan Ave., P.O. Box 228, Benzonia, MI 49616 (231) 882-4723 E-mail: trans@mlui.org

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