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Bypass Would Grow Traverse City in Wrong Direction

Real opportunity lies in our land, water, people

March 14, 2001 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

At any given moment out on congested South Airport Road, one or more cars is likely to contain a parent or grandparent exclaiming: “It wasn’t always this way.”

I’m one of those people. For 54 years, I’ve lived here with my husband William Milliken, a Traverse City native. We’ve watched as new roads brought acres of pavement and miles of cars, covered farmland with billboards, and transformed rural communities into collections of people who don’t know each other.

Some say these changes are inevitable consequences of building the region’s economy. But I say: “It doesn’t have to be this way.” We in the Grand Traverse region are richer than we realize. Fertile farmland, breathtaking shoreline, and hardworking, honest people are essential to our economy and way of life. We must nurture our community by planning growthwisely, not stress our resources by following typical patterns of growth blindly.

I am writing today because we now face a pivotal choice between new and old types of growth. The choice is whether the Grand Traverse County Road Commission should build a major bridge over the Boardman River, which will make way for a 30-mile bypass around the city and across three counties. Federal officials will rule on the road commission’s plan later this month after they receive additional public comment through Monday, March 19.

I invite you to join me and hundreds of other citizens who have sent letters explaining that we in the Grand Traverse region can do better than carve a new version of South Airport Road into the landscape. We can relieve current and future traffic problems with smart investments in existing roads, and we can prevent further loss of farmland and habitat to strip development by leaving the Boardman River valley alone.

My faith in this region’s ability to grow and prosper without degrading its important assets is one reason I sit on the board of directors of the Michigan Land Use Institute. The Institute has been working since 1996 with area citizens and the local Coalition for Sensible Growth to stop the bypass and start a new growth direction for the region.

The Institute and the Coalition have developed a lower-cost, less-damaging plan to relieve South Airport Road congestion, called “Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region.” “Smart Roads” solves traffic problems by redesigning current roads, fixing the Cass Road bridge, improving public transit, and directing new growth to already developed areas. You can learn about “Smart Roads” and how to contact federal officials at the Institute’s Web site: www.mlui.org.

It is important that you speak out with me because the road commission’s $300-million bridge and bypass plan will only create more traffic problems. The commission’s own analysis shows that South Airport Road would remain nearly as congested as it is now. It also shows that the new Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile corridor would fill with even more traffic than South Airport Road.

But that would be just the beginning. The Hartman-Hammond bridge is the linchpin in a much larger and damaging regional bypass that would open up thousands of acres of farmland and forest to sprawl while destroying vital wetlands and habitat. The community’s beloved VASA trail system also is in the path of this bypass, which would route tens of thousands of cars and trucks through woods and fields that are now quiet and clean.

I believe the Grand Traverse region can do better. We can break from the growth patterns that have turned downstate communities into solid chains of traffic and gritty overpasses. We can flourish in the 21st-century as a region that invests in its already developed areas rather than leaving them behind in disrepair. And we can support farmers and recreation businesses by giving rural communities and wildlife room to breathe.

Choosing “Smart Roads” over the proposed bridge and bypass is a critical step toward this vision of a stable economy and unique quality of life in the Grand Traverse area. When we take this step, the next generation of parents will be able to tell their children proudly, as they drive by orchards in full bloom: “It will always be this way.”

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
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