When 200 people packed the Traverse City Civic Center in June to oppose construction of a new highway bypass and bridge over the Boardman River, it was another decisive step by one of the region's most effective grassroots groups.
The meeting was sponsored by the Coalition for Sensible Growth, a citizens' group that has made a well-documented and well-coordinated effort to foster public debate on an issue that will decide the future of the Grand Traverse area.
The Coalition began in the spring of 1996, when the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission unveiled plans for a $300 million highway bypass that would loop around Traverse City, and for a new $18 million bridge across the Boardman.
The public reaction was immediate in booming Traverse City, where support for growth management is strong.
Long-time residents do not want to see their friendly small town swallowed up by chain stores, and highways clogged with traffic. Residents who have arrived more recently say they do not want their new cities and towns to be like the ones from which they have just escaped.
The Coalition is building on this widespread understanding that the new freeway and bridge would be the runways for more sprawling industrial and residential development--the same pattern that has overtaken so many other places in America.
Recognizing the deep public desire for a well-designed, livable community, Ken Smith, Mark Stone, and Arlin Wasserman have taken prominent roles in the Coalition. Mr. Smith, who has a doctorate in urban planning, is a former chairman of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council. Mr. Stone, a former Antrim County Commissioner, is publisher of the Lake Country Gazette, a local bi-monthly newspaper. Mr. Wasserman, an environmental risk management specialist, recently became a consultant to the Institute.
The joining of Mr. Smith's knowledge of planning, Mr. Stone's communications skills, and Mr. Wasserman's technical expertise has produced an effective, high-profile movement that has gained the respect of citizens, local leaders, and the media.
Through the use of the Freedom of Information Act, the Coalition has uncovered evidence that has backed up its arguments and damaged the credibility of the Road Commission and other bridge proponents:
•One internal Road Commission memorandum estimated the cost of remodeling an existing bridge on Cass Road into a modern, two-lane bridge at $1.7 million. The Coalition points out that this alternative bridge plan would make better sense for the public treasury and the environment.
•The Coalition also uncovered evidence that transportation planners deliberately misled the public about the purpose of the new bridge, which they have described as a stand-alone project. According to the documents, the Hartman-Hammond Bridge would be the vital link in the Traverse City highway bypass.
•An analysis by Mr. Wasserman concluded that even under optimum conditions, it would take longer to get from one side of Grand Traverse Bay to the other using the new highway than it does now using existing roads.
•The Coalition has documented the considerable environmental damage the Hartman-Hammond Bridge would cause in the Boardman Valley. It would be built through a particularly unspoiled section of the Boardman River, while displacing a dozen homes, hemming in the river with 35-foot earthen berms, and causing the destruction of five acres of wetlands.
The Coalition's approach is capturing the attention of local, state, and federal policymakers.
•In June, Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) passed over the Road Commission's request for $12.5 million in federal highway funds to build the Hartman-Hammond Bridge. Instead, Mr. Stupak suggested that the Grand Traverse County Road Commission prepare a thorough Environmental Impact Statement. The study would enable the public and lawmakers to understand the full implications of the project in spurring sprawling development and degrading the environment. It also would include a review of all potential alternatives to the bridge.
•Also in June, the Traverse City Planning Commission, by a 6-2 vote, recommended halting any further taxpayer investment in the Hartman-Hammond Bridge until alternatives are thoroughly studied. G
For more information, contact: Mark Stone, Lake Country Gazette, P.O. Box 885, Elk Rapids, MI 49629; Tel. 616-264-6800.