Michigan Land Use Institute

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Working for the Best of Both Worlds

March 17, 2004 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

MLUI/Heidi Johnson
  Kelly Thayer directs the Institute's northwest Michigan land use and transportation project.

Near Traverse City, they’re still trying to plow a highway through a really rich river valley and its new public park. The Grand Traverse County Road Commission says it wants a “rectilinear grid” street system. So, commissioners say, the park must be sliced in two and its peace shattered by 30,000 cars and semis every day.

I can only imagine what the Boardman River valley’s otters, coyotes, and kingfishers would think. I know a whole lot of folks don’t like it. It’s a park, after all, and a nice spot for hiking, spying lots of birds, catching trout, and just hanging out.

Grand Traverse County’s locals and newcomers mostly want the same thing. They like downtowns and commercial centers linked to neighborhoods, open space, and raw natural beauty. They prefer a little slower pace and people they recognize when they go for a walk or buy something. It all adds up to community and a sense of belonging.

That’s why residents — aided by the Institute and allied groups — have fought for 17 years to stop the Hartman-Hammond road and bridge project. And now the state is helping. In early March, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ruled that the road commission had illegally advanced its highway project, sandbagged a popular alternative that would spare the valley, and, in doing so, “undermined” the validity of its own $1 million traffic and environmental study.

Either the road commission can fight on for what could be another 17 years, while the region’s traffic thickens and quality of life sags. Or commissioners can partner with the residents they’re supposed to be serving. People here are typical, reasonable Michiganders. They’ll eventually stop talking about the really bad idea of chopping up their riverside park. And they’ll get on with enjoying Grand Traverse’s city life and country life, the best of both worlds.

Kelly Thayer, the director of the Institute's Northwest Land Use and Transportation Project, has led the Grand Traverse region’s campaign to halt the Hartman-Hammond highway and bridge project since 1998. Reach him at kelly@mlui.org.

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