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Smart Roads: Petoskey: The Smart Choice

A qualified alternative

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

After more than a year of work by dozens of Petoskey area residents, and our consultant New Alternatives, the Michigan Land Use Institute has developed a better, faster, and cheaper alternative to the Petoskey Bypass proposed by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).
Our plan, Smart Roads: Petoskey, solves congestion by modernizing U.S. 31, developing a new Express Route linking local roads, and creating a new Truck Route that avoids downtown Petoskey and Bay View.
The strength of Smart Roads: Petoskey is that it relieves congestion by spreading traffic more evenly across modernized existing roads. The payoff: Traffic is eased while conserving tax dollars and the countryside. This is a vastly more effective and sensitive approach than building a $70 million, four-lane bypass.
As outlined in the final report from New Alternatives and summarized here, Smart Roads: Petoskey is:

BETTER — It eases congestion, stops sprawl, and conserves the countryside. Smart Roads combats congestion as effectively as the proposed bypass by dispersing traffic on several upgraded roads. This means there’s less development pressure along the Express Route than there would be along a bypass. And Smart Roads outlines five major categories of conservation techniques that can be used in combination to prevent sprawl and preserve rural Emmet County.
In contrast, MDOT claims that simply limiting the number of new driveways connecting to the bypass will stop sprawl. This limited approach is sure to fail and certain to trigger development and congestion at a dozen or more intersections along the bypass. In addition, the proposed bypass will harm the agricultural economy in Resort and Bear Creek townships, weaken Petoskey's historic downtown, and worsen traffic and parking problems in nearby Harbor Springs as the bypass dumps traffic onto U.S. 31 near the start of M-119.
The Smart Roads Express Route is less than one-third as wide as the bypass, helping to protect rural character and sustain the agricultural economy. The Express Route also fills far fewer wetlands than the bypass, which would ruin 29 to 41 acres of wetlands depending on the route. And because the Express Route relies mainly on existing roads, the rural historic districts in Resort and Bear Creek townships are preserved.
FASTER — By using mostly existing roads, Smart Roads can be completed and opened in just a few years, rather than the 10 years or more needed to design and build the 10-mile-long, four-lane Petoskey Bypass. Smart Roads calls for just three miles of new road now and two miles in the future. In fact, once the connection between Intertown and Click roads is made, the Express Route can open using Division Road until the new Manvel Road connection is built. The quicker the Smart Roads plan is adopted, the sooner the congestion can be relieved on U.S. 31. MDOT has said that the bypass might open in 2010 at the earliest.
CHEAPER — The Smart Roads transportation improvements will cost perhaps one-tenth as much as the $70 million bypass, whose price tag grows each year. The bypass calls for 3.3 times the length and twice the number of lanes as the Smart Roads Express Route. And the bypass right-of-way ranges from 3 to 4.5 times wider than that needed for the Express Route. In fact, the Express Route almost fits within the median proposed for the boulevard portion of the bypass. Some of the cost savings provided by Smart Roads, meanwhile, could be redirected to permanently protect farm and recreational land and other natural features in Emmet County.
Petoskey area residents have asserted for more than a decade that trying to fix the congestion problem doesn’t need to create sprawl and loss of valuable open land. Now with Smart Roads: Petoskey, there’s proof that communities can sensibly manage traffic and growth and enhance their quality of life.

Detailed Alternatives to the Petoskey Bypass

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

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

Install computer-controlled traffic signals to monitor where the greatest traffic is and speed it along with longer-lasting green lights. Also make these changes to key intersections:
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.
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.
U.S. 31 and Division — The intersection is controlled by stop signs on Division. A traffic signal is recommended, and the intersection should be widened to give more room to vehicles waiting to turn left from U.S. 31 onto southbound Division.
U.S. 31 and M-119 — The intersection is near its traffic capacity. Computer-controlled traffic signals will improve traffic flow, and the proposed Express Route and Truck Route will help divert some traffic away from it.

Develop a new Express Route linking local roads.

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 and Bay View.
The Sterzik Road corridor 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 avoidsdowntown Petoskey and Bay View.

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.

Develop a Summer Shuttle Bus service to reduce tourist traffic.

Local governments or local businesses could cooperate to run a Summer Shuttle Bus service. The service would provide a convenient means for visitors to patronize downtown shops, Bay Harbor, and other locations without contributing to congestion and parking problems. The bus service would complement the area’s fledgling water-taxi program by providing bus rides to visitors arriving by boat. The bus service also could link to the Petoskey area’s growing network of trails and greenways used by pedestrians and bicyclists. In the future, the Summer Shuttle Bus service could connect to the recently proposed regional bus system that would join Emmet, Cheboygan, Ostego, and Presque Isle counties.

MDOT’s Proposed Petoskey Bypass

Since 1987, the Michigan Department of Transportation has proposed building a $70 million bypass in or near Petoskey. The current proposal is to construct a three- and four-lane highway bypass through rural Resort and Bear Creek townships, using up to a 300-foot-wide right-of-way. The 10-mile-long bypass would intersect at least 12 other roads. The state is studying a bypass corridor that would leave U.S. 31 near Bay Harbor and snake eastward through Resort and Bear Creek townships before heading north and rejoining U.S. 31 just east of M-119. MDOT has said the bypass will save commuters about 90 seconds when compared to traveling through downtown, and would divert a small percentage of current traffic.

Protecting the Land

Smart Roads: Petoskey Identifies Five Tools for Land Protection; MDOT Promises Just One

Petoskey area residents want to protect farms, recreational land, and the region’s rural character. In conversations and community surveys, residents have expressed the high value they place on conserving the countryside.
According to the city-county Comprehensive Plan, Emmet County’s rapid growth threatens the region’s landscape. The state’s poorly planned bypass would only aggravate the situation by speeding the loss of farmland, planting sprawl in its place, and triggering the relocation of Petoskey’s urban core to the townships.
To control sprawl, the state promises to buy a 300-foot right-of-way and to limit new driveways connecting with the bypass. As the Smart Roads: Petoskey report makes clear, the state Department of Transportation plan will not protect the landscape. Attracted by the traffic, major new development will spread out all along the bypass. Sprawling businesses simply will connect their driveways to the dozen or more roads that will intersect the bypass.
Fortunately, there’s a better way. Smart Roads: Petoskey outlines five categories of conservation techniques to help maintain rural character, allow development in selected locations, and still ease congestion. Within these categories the Institute recommends the following actions, paid for by the tens of millions of dollars in savings provided by Smart Roads: Petoskey:

• Define an Urban Growth Boundary.
Local governments agree to draw a line on a map indicating where public money will be spent to extend roads, water lines, and sewer service, and where private developers must pay for infrastructure. This tool helps direct growth, preserve rural land, and save taxpayer money.
• Adopt Regional Zoning for Major Developments. City, county, and township governments agree to a regional zoning plan for the largest commercial developments. This would combat sprawl, preserve a distinction between urban and rural areas, and save taxpayer money by siting projects where roads, sewer, water, and other services exist.
• Employ Tax-base Sharing. Local governments cooperate to share tax revenue across a county or region. This allows decisions on where to locate heavily taxed developments to be based on sound planning criteria, rather than on which government offers the largest tax breaks.

• Use Open Space and Flood Plain Zoning.
Governments approve zoning to protect open space and flood plains along waterways. This prevents development from sprawling into the most scenic or ecologically important areas. Emmet County uses this tool in some places.
• Approve Coverage-maximum Zoning. This type of zoning defines the maximum amount of land that can be covered, or developed. This tool can prevent major developments with large parking lots in areas intended to remain rural.
• Promote Permanent Conservation Easements.
A property owner can sell or donate certain development rights, preserving the land or otherwise limiting its development. Creating a conservation easement typically results in substantial tax breaks for the owner.
• Design Greenways. State and local governments purchase open land to preserve it, and to create parks, trail networks, and other recreational options.
• Identify and Protect Resources. Local governments map natural resources and valuable open space for preservation on a township or region-wide basis. Governments then amend their master plans and ordinances to conserve these resources and direct development to appropriate areas.

• Encourage Landowner Compacts. Owners of adjoining properties agree to plan the development of their sites jointly, to preserve wetlands, woodlands, or other natural features.
• Require Two Conceptual Plans. Local governments require developers to provide two sets of plans for developing a site. One shows the maximum amount of development possible. The other shows how natural features within the site would be protected.
• Encourage Open Space Design Development. Local governments require or provide incentives for developers to preserve areas of parkland, farmland, or other natural features in their site design.
• Promote Bicycling and Walking. Local governments require or provide incentives for developers to include bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly designs in site plans.

• Create a Purchase of Development Rights Program.
A farmer or other owner of undeveloped land sells the future right to develop it while maintaining ownership and continuing to use it. The government buys the development rights through a deed restriction, ensuring that the current land use will not change.
• Offer Life Estates. The government buys property to enhance the overall area, but allows the former owner to remain for the rest of his or her life before claiming the property. If necessary, the state can purchase a limited number of homes along the Express Route, pay the homeowners now, and then claim the property when the residents leave.

The Petoskey Project

The Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project is helping residents and local government leaders develop a credible, cost-effective, and environmentally sensitive program for moving people and goods in Emmet County. The project is funded by the generous support of Institute members and the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, and is assisted by our consultant New Alternatives. 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 citizens’ ideas and promptly identifies a community’s transportation needs and their solutions.

Funding for Alternatives

MDOT’s Petoskey Bypass would cost at least $70 million in state and federal money. 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 previously were earmarked for the Petoskey Bypass. The law specifically allows the money to be spent to “upgrade existing local roads” in the Petoskey area.
Smart Roads: Petoskey qualifies for federal funding under Congressman Stupak’s legislation.

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