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Useful Alternatives to the Petoskey Bypass

Modernize local roads, develop new express route

February 1, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

THE PETOSKEY ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION AND LAND USE PROJECT
The Michigan Land Use Institute, assisted by area residents and officials from Bear Creek Township, has launched the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project to develop a feasible alternative to the bypass. The goals of the project are to ease congestion, promote business in central Petoskey, and prevent forest and farmland from being paved over by miles of unsightly sprawl.

A MOMENTOUS CHOICE
As the Petoskey region approaches the 21st century, it is faced with a choice of historic dimension. Should it build a $70 million highway bypass that is certain to significantly alter patterns of development? Or should citizens help local officials make a courageous decision to find a cheaper and less damaging alternative?

In Nov. 1998, the Michigan Land Use Institute launched the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project to assist the region in finding an answer. To help us, we hired New Alternatives, Inc., a nationally known firm specializing in transportation and land use planning. Rick Kuner, the firm’s president, met with citizens and local officials in January. Mr. Kuner took a look at how traffic moves in the region and studied hundreds of pages of documents relevant to the proposed new highway.

Mr. Kuner’s firm now recommends two promising alternatives that merit additional study. New Alternatives, Inc., believes they could solve congestion and maintain the region’s scenic beauty. The options are to:

1. Modernize local roads, expand intersections, and build a limited number of new connector roads.

2. Develop a new express route linking existing local roads. It would be designed for speeds of 35—45 mph to enable engineers to plan for a narrower right-of-way and tighter curves than those proposed by the Michigan Department of Transportation. This could minimize the loss of farmland and open space, and contain sprawl.

THE PETOSKEY PROJECT
The Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project, which is funded by the Joyce Foundation and Institute members, is intended to assist citizens and local government leaders develop a rational, cost-effective, and environmentally sensitive program for moving people and goods in Emmet County. The project’s goals are to:

• Develop a credible alternative land use and transportation 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 curb sprawl, rebuild cities, conserve farmland, reduce energy demands and pollution, and protect natural resources.

• Promote new public policy to reform state transportation planning to accurately reflect citizen input and to promptly define transportation projects and their solutions.

PHASE ONE - INITIAL ASSESSMENT REPORT
On February 20, Mr. Kuner’s firm completed the first of the four-phase Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project. In Phase One, we asked them to identify transportation alternatives that have a high potential for serving the region’s transportation needs and are worthy of further study. The report focused on two primary alternatives:

LOCAL ROAD IMPROVEMENTS
This alternative suggests upgrading existing streets and adding a limited number of new links to the street network in and around Petoskey. In contrast to the proposed Petoskey Bypass which hopes to solve congestion by concentrating traffic on one new road, our proposed alternative seeks to relieve congestion by spreading traffic more evenly across modernized existing roads. Among the tools for modernizing existing roads are turn lanes, wider roads, expanded intersections, synchronized traffic signals, better signage and pavement markers, and reversible traffic lanes.

In 1996, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak moved legislation through Congress to provide more flexibility in how the state spends $28 million in federal funds for the Petoskey Bypass. The legislation specifically allows the money to be spent to "upgrade existing local roads." The alternatives proposed by Mr. Kuner’s firm seem appropriate to qualify for federal funds under Rep. Stupak’s legislation. In a later phase of the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project, the firm will compare the performance of local roads improvements to that of the proposed Petoskey Bypass.

NEW EXPRESS ROUTE
This alternative is based on the notion that a new express route would have fewer damaging effects than the bypass on farmland, wetlands, and neighborhoods if it were narrower and had tighter curves. This concept is possible if the new express route was designed with a lower speed limit, preferably 35-45 mph. Reduced speed allows designers to narrow the right-of-way, tighten curves, still meet safety standards, and make other design changes that enable the bypass to fit into sensitive residential, agricultural, and wetland areas. In general, a lower speed makes it possible to consider many more alignments for the express route than if it was designed for highway speed, as is the proposed bypass.

OTHER FINDINGS
In addition to its call for studying two alternatives, the report provides an analysis of the existing and projected traffic patterns in the Petoskey area. These are the more pertinent findings:

• Traffic is seasonal and heaviest in summer.

• The peak summer traffic occurs in midday and lasts for several hours, which presents unique challenges to easing congestion.

• Some traffic is spilling over into neighborhood streets.

• It is impossible to build enough roads to avoid congestion altogether.

These ideas are presented with as much detail as New Alternatives and the Institute thought appropriate at this time. Our goal in Phase One was to focus on feasible alternatives and then to develop a sound research base to support the alternatives in later phases. We want to be sure to subject the alternatives to thorough analysis prior to making them public. By doing so, the proposed alternatives will stand on their own.

NEXT STEPS IN FOUR-PHASE PROJECT
Having identified the primary alternatives to the proposed Petoskey Bypass, New Alternatives is now moving to the next phase. During Phase Two, the firm will:

• Recommend specific local road improvements that will provide a level of transportation service acceptable to the community.

• Develop a detailed proposal for an express route, including a proposed alignment for the new road.

• Estimate the cost to implement each of the recommendations.

• Examine the likely changes in land use that will result from the proposed alternatives.

• Study the effects on traffic and land use that would result from initiating shuttle bus service in the region, constructing bicycle lanes and walking paths, synchronizing traffic lights, ride-sharing, and changes in parking.

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