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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Intervenes in Traverse City Bypass Study

Wildlife, river at risk

December 6, 2000 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

For Immediate Release:

December 6, 2000

Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Coordinator
Michigan Land Use Institute
Phone: 231-882-4723 x13 o Fax: 231-882-7350
E-mail: kelly@mlui.org - Web site: www.mlui.org

John Nelson, Spokesman
Coalition for Sensible Growth
Traverse City
Phone: 231-941-1099

Another Federal Agency Questions
Hartman-Hammond Bridge

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is second in a year to criticize Grand Traverse County Road Commission's $1 million bridge study

BENZONIA - A year after one federal agency found fault with it, another U.S. agency is challenging the accuracy and quality of the $1 million Hartman-Hammond bridge study, which the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and Michigan Department of Transportation have submitted for final federal approval. The Hartman-Hammond bridge study is a $25 million proposal to route traffic over a new crossing of the Boardman River valley.

In a Nov. 28 letter to the Lansing office of the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the Hartman-Hammond bridge study:

  • Uses "potentially old and biased" data.
  • Masks a much larger regional Traverse City Bypass proposal.
  • "Prematurely dismisses" the citizen-supported "Smart Roads" alternative.

The letter is available on the Michigan Land Use Institute website at http://www.mlui.org/html/news.asp-->http://www.mlui.org/html/news.asp .

The Fish and Wildlife Service letter is a major setback for the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and MDOT, which have labored since 1996 to justify the $25 million Hartman-Hammond bridge and associated road widenings. The road commission had publicly expressed its desire to conclude the study in early 2000. Advocates of a less-damaging and less-costly alternative to the Hartman-Hammond bridge believe the needed improvements in the study will lead to the better "Smart Roads" alternative.

This Fish and Wildlife Service action comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the fall of 1999 made similar criticisms of the bridge study.The county road commission and MDOT have since spent hundreds of thousands more dollars to bolster the study. A year later, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service says the road commission and department of transportation still have not corrected fundamental problems with their work. The Michigan Land Use Institute and the Coalition for Sensible Growth submitted written comments in July 1999 that outlined many similar flaws in the study.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes the case that bad data and analysis have led to a bad decision by the road commission to build the Hartman-Hammond bridge," said Kelly Thayer, transportation project coordinator at the Michigan Land Use Institute. "Once again a federal agency is agreeing with the local residents who want a fair review of all options for improving the transportation system in the Grand Traverse region."

"Taxpayers should wonder why $1 million has been spent for such poor work. It's a waste of money and time," Mr. Thayer said. "The next step should be for the road commission to pledge to use current data and accurate analysis to fully study all options, including the citizen-supported 'Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region' alternative. Under state and federal law, the study must consider the viability of all alternatives not simply promote a hand-picked idea."

The Federal Highway Administration has final say in whether the federal government will approve and fund the bridge. To make its decision, the Federal Highway Administration evaluates comments from key state and federal agencies, as well as the public. The Hartman-Hammond bridge study is nearing its final form, after a round of government and public comment last year on the draft version. The public will have 30 days to comment again once the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and MDOT publish the final study, likely later this winter.

In more detail, the Fish and Wildlife Service asserts in its letter that the Hartman-Hammond bridge study: ·

"Uses potentially old and biased demographic information." Therefore, the study "may have supported an alternative erroneously." The study assumes that an enormous number of people - about 2.5 times more than either the Michigan Demographer's Office or the U.S. Census Bureau predicts - will settle in the Grand Traverse region by 2015. An assumption of more people results in a prediction of more traffic and helps to justify major construction, such as the Hartman-Hammond bridge. ·

"Represents one phase of the 30-mile Regional Corridor or Traverse City Bypass," which could lead to "substantial wetland impacts." Federal law requires state and local governments to study road projects in whole, not in segments, so that they can measure the full cost to taxpayers and the environment and total effects on the transportation system. The Institute and the Coalition have since 1996 contended that the Hartman-Hammond bridge is the first link in a much larger and damaging regional bypass. ·

"Prematurely dismisses Cass Road bridge improvements and alternatives using the bridge." The citizen-supported "Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region" alternative relies on fixing the existing Cass Road bridge rather than building a new multimillion-dollar bridge through an unblemished portion of the Boardman River valley. The road commission has refused to fully evaluate the public's ideas. ·

"Would fragment the remaining high quality wildlife habitat in the area." The bridge proposal would do so by crossing and filling portions of the Boardman River valley. Hundreds of residents in the region have voiced their support for fixing the Cass Road bridge rather than plowing through an undisturbed portion of the valley.

Despite pressure from MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to agree to the Hartman-Hammond bridge study before it is published, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA have signaled that they will wait until after publication to cast final judgment.

The Institute, the Coalition for Sensible Growth, and hundreds of residents of the Grand Traverse Region have vocally opposed the Hartman-Hammond bridge project for many reasons. Objections include the fact that the Road commission's own study reveals that the Hartman-Hammond road and bridge would quickly become the busiest in the region, eclipsing congested South Airport Road. The bridge proposal also is a recipe for even more sprawl south of Traverse City, and would fill in five acres of wetlands in an exceptional portion of the Boardman River valley. Moreover, the bridge proposal ignores the needs of people who sometimes prefer to walk or ride a bicycle.

"Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region"
Hundreds of citizens have designed and supported the "Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region" alternative, which remedies traffic problems by widening and connecting the Beitner-Keystone corridor to Hammond Road, improving public transit, providing space for bicycling and walking, and promoting urban growth in already developed areas. Rather than building a new, four-lane bridge through an unspoiled stretch of the Boardman River valley, "Smart Roads" proposed to fix the existing Cass Road Bridge, saving tax dollars and the environment. "Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region" is on the web at: http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html

The Hartman-Hammond bridge proposal
The Hartman-Hammond bridge proposal seeks to relocate and widen Hartman Road to four or five lanes and to connect to the five-lane Hammond Road with a bridge through an undisturbed portion of the Boardman River valley. The proposal also would widen Three Mile Road between South Airport Road and U.S. 31. The proposal's roots reach back almost 15 years. The Hartman-Hammond bridge is a key component of one of the routes for the proposed Traverse City Regional Bypass, a 30-mile corridor evaluated since 1990. In 1987, Grand Traverse County voters rejected a multimillion-dollar road package that included the Hartman-Hammond bridge among several projects.

The Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, non-profit research, educational, and service organization founded in 1995. More than 2,400 households, businesses, and organizations have joined the Institute in support of its mission to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity, and protects Michigan's unmatched natural resources.

The Coalition
The Coalition for Sensible Growth is a Traverse City-based grassroots organization working to build community support for future development that reduces energy demands, air and water pollution, and the encroachment of paved surfaces, and protects the unique natural features of the Grand Traverse region. The Coalition has taken the lead in developing alternatives to the proposed Traverse City bypass and a new four-lane bridge through the Boardman River valley.

Resources on the MLUI web site:
Letter from the Fish & Wildlife Service, dated Nov. 28. 2000: http://www.mlui.org/html/news.asp-->http://www.mlui.org/html/news.asp

Letters from the U.S. EPA commenting on the Hartman-Hammond bridge study are posted on the Institute's web site at http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/tcintro.html

The Institute-Coalition July 1999 comment on the Hartman-Hammond bridge study is available on the web at http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/offstate.html-->http://www.mlui.org/projects/transport/tcbypass/offstate.html

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