Grand Traverse County, Michigan
Final Environmental Impact Statement
and Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation
The Michigan Land Use Institute, the Coalition for Sensible Growth, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, with the assistance of additional preparers and contributors, have evaluated the Grand Traverse County Road Commission’s Boardman River Crossing Mobility Study Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation (hereafter referred to as the FEIS). This evaluation of the FEIS is submitted herein for the public record as part of the public comment period on the FEIS.
Based on the evaluation, the preparers have concluded, and hereby respectfully request, that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reject the FEIS and its Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile Road recommended alternative, as inadequate and incomplete. Rather, the FHWA should require the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (Road Commission) and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to address, correct, and redo the clearly faulty and deficient FEIS, if the study is to proceed at all. The request is made that these corrective actions be taken prior to FHWA’s issuing of a Record of Decision.
The Institute, the Coalition, and ELPC also urge the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners and Grand Traverse County Road Commission to pursue a series of low-cost and ecologically sensitive improvements to existing roads. This includes the Smart Roads alternative and its call to repair the Cass Road bridge. The county board and road commission should not put more taxpayer resources into additional study of the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile Road recommended alternative, which the FEIS illegally segments from the much larger Traverse City Bypass.
The Institute, the Coalition, and ELPC have identified several areas in which the FEIS fails to comply procedurally with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), and other public laws and regulations. These failures of the FEIS are detailed in this document and include:
- Segmentation of Traverse City Bypass. The FEIS studies only a small portion of the proposed 30-mile Traverse City Bypass. In doing so, the FEIS illegally segments for study a section of a much larger project still under consideration. Township maps included in the FEIS show the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile Road recommended alternative serving as a portion of the larger bypass project. Grand Traverse County Road Commission documents seeking financial support for the recommended alternative assert that it is the "most critical section of the Traverse City Bypass." Planning documents prepared by the Michigan Department of Transportation also make clear that the recommended alternative is a portion of the bypass. Finally, Congressional funding for the Traverse City Bypass is used to study the Hartman-Hammond bridge and connector roads. At all levels of government — township, county, state, and federal — plans and funding allocations indicate that the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile Road recommended alternative is a key link in the Traverse City Bypass. Section 1 discusses segmentation in full.
- Underestimated Impacts to Wetlands and Aquatic Habitat. The FEIS inadequately analyzes impacts to wetlands and aquatic habitat. The FEIS also contains a wetland mitigation plan that is deficient, likely to adversely impact additional wetlands, and may cause harm to the Section 4(f)-protected Grand Traverse Nature Education Reserve. In addition, the recommended alternative is a segment of the 30-mile Traverse City Bypass, and would cause natural resource impacts which under NEPA should be, but are not, accounted for in the FEIS. An independent, expert review by the Great Lakes Environmental Center of the FEIS is summarized in Section 2 of this comment and included as Public Comment Appendix A-1.
- Improper and Inadequate Section 4(f) Analysis. The FEIS improperly and arbitrarily applies the protections to parks, recreation areas, and historic resources provided by Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. The citizen-led Smart Roads alternative (included in Public Comment Appendix B 1-5) is dismissed summarily because it might impact 4(f) lands, though this impact is not even certain. The Grand Traverse County Road Commission selected the recommended alternative even though it will cause equal or greater harm to Section 4(f) resources than would Smart Roads. And the other build alternative carried forward for further evaluation in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (South Airport -Three Mile Road) also would impact Section 4(f) lands. The FEIS fails to fully and meaningfully analyze and compare Section 4(f) impacts of alternatives as required by the law. Instead, the FEIS uses Section 4(f) — without sound basis — to dismiss some alternatives while downplaying these impacts for the recommended alternative. In addition, the recommended alternative is a segment of the 30-mile Traverse City Bypass, and would cause natural resource impacts (and possibly Section 4(f) impacts) which under NEPA should be, but are not, accounted for in the FEIS. The flawed 4(f) evaluation is discussed in greater detail in Section 3 of this comment.
- Flawed Land Use Analysis. The FEIS incorrectly asserts that absolutely no direct or secondary land use impacts would result from constructing the recommended alternative, compared to a no-build scenario. Two independent studies, one published in the FEIS but ignored, predict substantial land use changes resulting from the recommended alternative, including the development of more than 1,000 acres of farmland and open space. In addition, the recommended alternative is a segment of the 30-mile Traverse City Bypass, and would cause natural resource impacts which should be, but are not, accounted for in the FEIS. Section 4 of the comment, includes a more detailed discussion of land use impacts and appropriate methods for addressing transportation-induced land use impacts.
- Unscientific Population Forecasts. The FEIS identifies the need for the project and evaluates alternatives based on flawed forecasts of future population and population growth rates. The forecasts use nonstandard methods that cannot be replicated. The forecasts also are not based on state-prepared demographic studies, but rather rely on poorly performed local studies that provide incentives to inflate future population growth rates. As a result, the FEIS uses inaccurate methods to determine which alternative to recommend. Moreover, the opaque and subjective methods used to develop this key data set for evaluating alternatives violate NEPA. These concerns are discussed in greater detail in Section 5 of this comment.
- Traffic Modeling Fatally Flawed. By inflating the population forecasts, the FEIS has the effect of artificially boosting traffic projections. The result is that alternatives, including Smart Roads (See Public Comment Appendix B), are dismissed for not adequately reducing unrealistically high levels of predicted future congestion. The U.S. Census Bureau will release the most current and accurate population data in less than two weeks, but the Road Commission refused repeated requests to wait for this data to become available before completing the FEIS. In addition, the traffic modeling itself is deeply flawed, according to an independent, expert review. Section 5 and 6 and Appendix C-1 of the comment include a review of population forecasting and traffic modeling.
- Misrepresentation of Public and Local Government Support. The FEIS falsely portrays the level of support in the Grand Traverse region for the recommended alternative. The FEIS fails to note that while Garfield Township’s planning commission endorsed the Hartman-Hammond alternative, it also recommended repairing the Cass Road bridge. The City of Traverse City, which contains a small piece of the recommended alternative, simply rejected the recommended alternative. In addition, the public input process employed by the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and its consultants was at best a mis-investment of the public dollars designated to generate and evaluate all "prudent and feasible" alternatives to the proposed Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile Road recommended alternative. At worst it was a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion in support of the Road Commission’s preordained solution — the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile Road alternative. Section 7 fully explores local government and public involvement.
- Failure to Develop Prudent and Feasible Alternatives. The FEIS perpetuates the failure of the DEIS to develop prudent and feasible alternatives, as required by NEPA, by improperly advancing an alternative that fails to meet project needs while dismissing an alternative that meets these needs. The FEIS continues the misapplication of Section 4(f) requirements contained in the DEIS. Finally, the FEIS continues to fail to fully combine and refine alternatives, as required by NEPA and specifically called for in this project by the U.S. EPA. These failings are discussed in greater detail in Section 8.
- Unreasonable Statement of Purpose and Need. The FEIS defines an unreasonably narrow, arbitrary, and factually unsupported statement of purpose and need in order to favor the recommended alternative. The purpose and need is contradicted by statements included within the FEIS. The recommended alternative is no more successful than two dismissed alternatives in meeting the stated purpose and need. Most notably, the FEIS states that the recommended alternative is not needed to meet local traffic needs now or in the future — the stated purpose of the project. This is discussed further in Section 9 of this comment.