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Citizens Defeat the Traverse City Bypass

Institute and partners plan August 25 celebration on VASA Trail

August 24, 2001 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  The defeat of the Traverse City bypass will slow congestion, such as here at Chum's Corners, from spreading across the region.
For Immediate Release

Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Coordinator
Michigan Land Use Institute
Phone: 231-882-4723 ext. 13 • Fax: 231-882-7350
Email: kelly@mlui.org • Web site: www.mlui.org

Ken Smith, Co-founder
Coalition for Sensible Growth
Phone: 231-947-3280
Email: ksmith@traverse.com

Benzonia — After five years of citizen work to stop 30 miles of highway from bisecting Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties, the Michigan Department of Transportation has canceled its proposed Traverse City bypass. In a June 28 letter to the Federal Highway Administration, MDOT gave up the grand highway plan, as well as $3 million it held for further study of the bypass. The historic decision spares the popular VASA Trail in Acme and will slow the spread of congestion and strip development through the Grand Traverse region.

The defeat of the Traverse City bypass will slow congestion, such as here at Chum's Corners, from spreading across the region.

The victory is part of a sweeping trend in Michigan among citizens and grassroots groups to challenge new highways, which promote congestion and disrupt communities as residential and commercial development spreads out along the new corridors. Since 1999, Michigan citizens have risen up to defeat more than $3 billion worth of highways, including the U.S. 23 realignment in northeast Michigan, the U.S. 131 extension north of Cadillac, and the proposed Interstate73 between Jackson and Toledo. The Michigan Land Use Institute assisted in those efforts and continues to work with residents to fight bypass proposals in Petoskey and Grand Haven, as well as the proposed $1.3 billion widening of seven miles of Interstate 94 in Detroit.

The end to highway building is now clear across the nation. The governor of California, for example, recently declared that the state should shift from highway building to emphasizing public transit. This recognition at top levels of government echoes a broad citizen movement that is calling for the modernization of existing highways, better funding for public transit, and a stronger role for the public in designing transportation improvements.

Bye-Bye Bypass celebration
The Michigan Land Use Institute and its regional partners plan to celebrate the defeat of the Traverse City bypass from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 25, 2001, at the VASA Trail in Acme. The Institute, along with the Coalition for Sensible Growth, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and the Traverse Group of the Sierra Club, will provide details of how citizens united to stop the bypass and protect recreational lands and natural resources in the Grand Traverse region.

Organizers of the event will use mock bypass pavement to demonstrate the threat the project posed to the VASA Trail, which the bypass would have sliced in two. Celebrants will kick the mock bypass out of the VASA to symbolize its demise. The VASA Trail is a network of several dozen miles of trails that residents and visitors enjoy for hiking, biking, running, and skiing. The VASA also provides habitat for an abundance of plants and wildlife.

Directions: The celebration will take place about a half-mile down the VASA Trail from the Bartlett Road parking lot. From U.S. 31 in Acme, travel east on Bunker Hill Road, turn right on Bartlett Road, and then turn left past the VASA sign into the parking lot.

Hartman-Hammond bridge remains
The Michigan Department of Transportation conducted a preliminary study of the Traverse City bypass in 1996, recommending a route across the three counties and through the Boardman River valley and the VASA Trail. As recently as this year, the state transportation department still listed the Traverse City bypass in its official statewide planning document: "The MDOT 5 Year Road & Bridge Program." The document stated, "At the completion of the environmental document [for the Hartman-Hammond bridge], the department will review the identified corridors in the Traverse City Bypass Feasibility Study to determine which corridor will be advanced... ."

In 1997 the road commission began a second study to build the Hartman-Hammond bridge over the Boardman River as the "critical section" and "one phase" of the Traverse City bypass, according to road commission documents. While officials have canceled the larger bypass, they received federal approval Aug. 9 to build the Hartman-Hammond bridge section, which would connect U.S. 31 at Hartman Road to U.S. 31 at Three-Mile Road.

Citizens hold firm
The Institute and the Coalition have worked since 1997 to challenge the quality and legality of the road commission’s Hartman-Hammond bridge study. The Institute and Coalition’s primary challenge to the bridge study is that the commission did not consider the full extent and environmental effects of the project or legitimate alternatives to it. Federal law prohibits studying only a portion of a larger transportation project. The law also requires a full environmental study of the overall project, in this case the bypass, as well as its alternatives. The intent of the law is to develop a project that provides the greatest transportation benefits, with the least environmental damage and the lowest cost.

With MDOT unwilling to direct the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to comply with the law and study the whole bypass and its alternatives, the Institute and the Coalition brought their concerns to several federal agencies with oversight of the Hartman-Hammond bridge study. In 2000 and 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service responded by raising their own concerns about studying only a segment of the larger bypass. Both agencies wrote that they were unwilling to approve the Hartman-Hammond bridge project while the bypass issue remained unresolved.

State cancels bypass
Finally in May and June of 2001, MDOT abandoned its plans to build the Traverse City bypass in letters it sent to the EPA, Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Institute. The transportation department failed, however, to issue a press release regarding its change of plans, which is customary when it cancels a project. In July, at the Institute’s request, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow confirmed that MDOT had scrapped its Traverse City bypass plan and relinquished more than $3 million it held for further study of the bypass.

The Institute and the Coalition continue to be very concerned about the remaining Hartman-Hammond bridge proposal. Since 1997, the Institute has retained attorneys to assist in tracking the legal deficiencies of the bridge study. The Institute repeatedly has pointed out these flaws in writing and in person to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, but the road commission has ignored the warnings.

The Institute’s ongoing legal concerns regarding the bridge study include the Grand Traverse County Road Commission’s failure to fully consider the citizen-led "Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region" alternative, the road commission’s inaccurate assessment of the bridge’s potential harm to wetlands and habitat, and the road commission’s unscientific forecasts of future population and traffic growth. The Institute is actively considering legal options to halt the bridge project.

About us
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent nonprofit 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 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, 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 bridge and bypass.

Smart Roads is an innovative, citizen-led program to meet the Grand Traverse Region’s transportation needs in the 21st century. The Smart Roads approach remedies traffic problems by redesigning current roads, improving public transit, and promoting urban growth in already developed areas.

Please click here-->click here to learn more about the Smart Roads alternative to the bypass and regional citizen efforts to challenge the Traverse City bypass and the Hartman-Hammond Bridge.

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