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Survey Finds Little Support for New Roads

Petoskey more interested in bike paths, sidewalks, transit

July 31, 2007 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Jim Flick Realtor
  Petoskey-area residents believe that spending transportation dollars on road maintenance and bicycle and pedestrian paths can help preserve their town’s character and the surrounding countryside.

PETOSKEY—Nearly five years after Emmet County residents convinced the state to cancel construction of a highway bypass around this city, a new survey reveals that most who live here still reject building new roads as a best solution to the region’s traffic woes.

The recent survey asked residents of Petoskey and two adjacent townships how they would allocate public money for roads. Overwhelmingly, survey participants said that 70 percent of the money should be spent on maintaining existing roads, and only 30 percent should be spent on widening or building new roads. Instead, they prefer to maintain their existing roadways, fix intersections, and coordinate traffic signals to improve traffic flow.

The survey, part of the Petoskey Area Transportation Study, which grew directly from successful citizen effort to stop the proposed bypass, reflects the opinions of more than a thousand residents in Petoskey and Resort and Bear Creek Townships. According to Joe Corradino of The Corradino Group, which conducted the survey, the results confirm that local residents have little interest in carving up the countryside for more thoroughfares.

"There is a sensibility right now that you can’t buy your way out of congestion, so lets’ take care of what we have," said Mr. Corradino.

Mr. Corradino also said that many who participated in the survey expressed interest in a public transportation system and in building more sidewalks and bike paths.

"The most significant things the folks are proud of range from the non-motorized system, bikeways and walkways to the rural character of the area," Mr. Corradino said. "That echoes thru a lot of this."

Mr. Corradino detailed the survey results several weeks ago during a trio of public meetings held as part of the Petoskey Area Transportation Study, which supporters consider a crucial step in solving Petoskey’s worsening traffic problems. The three public meetings attracted more than 70 area residents, who voiced a variety of opinions on what they thought are the most pressing traffic problems the county faces—and the best solutions.

Here Comes (Traffic) Trouble
For example, Peterk Gillard, a downtown Petoskey resident, said there needs to be a public transportation system in place for the disabled in the community.

John and Susan Pickens, who own a historic home in nearby Bay View, had a different concern, one that buses cannot solve: They said they are dismayed at the number of 18-wheelers that rumble through their community at all hours. They asked the Corrradino Group to consider an alternative truck route that would keep big rigs out of Bayview.

"We have so much truck traffic it’s unbelievable," said Mrs. Pickens. "I can’t imagine trucks going through a residential area like that, especially at 35-plus miles an hour."

Many local people believe that traffic solutions for fast-growing Emmet County can’t come soon enough. Official figures indicate that the county gains about 436 new residents annually; many studies indicate that, typically, each new resident that drives generates as many as a half-dozen new car trips a day, thickening the traffic on already overburdened area roads.

During last week’s meetings, Mr. Corradino presented summer traffic projections for the Petoskey area over the next two decades, and they are ominous. For example, during peak summer hours, sections of U.S. 31 and M-119 are already over capacity—the traffic is bumper-to-bumper—but by 2030 virtually the entire length of those two roadways will be bumper-to-bumper, due to population growth and increased tourism.

"It’s quite something," Mr. Corradino said of the traffic projections. "When you look 25 years from now, this is what could happen if something doesn’t get fixed. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is going to spread from end to end."

"Your biggest asset is your biggest liability – you are too attractive (a community,)" he said. "When you put that much pressure on the radiator, eventually something is going to have to break."

Trucks and Transit
And, while local residents aren’t interested in building new roads, the Corradino Group is still considering calling for new connector roads and truck routes to help ease congestion on the main highways in Petoskey and surrounding townships.

"I don’t think the community will build a lot of new things, but the community will listen to a reasoned argument about strategic improvements in the right places," Mr. Corradino said. "You can’t deal with all this traffic without a big ouch."

But Corradino Group representative Larry Strange said he believes there is also great potential for at least a basic public transit system in the Petoskey area. The City of Petoskey is already considering a downtown trolley, and Mr. Strange said he envisions the possibility of a dial-a-ride system that would service major employment centers. The Corradino Group is also examining the possibility of a ferry system from Petoskey to Harbor Springs.

A Petoskey transit system could mesh well with systems in nearby Charlevoix and Cheboygan Counties: Charlevoix’s system began service in 1980, and offers essential transportation for seniors and disabled residents, while Cheboygan provides bus service all the way to Petoskey.

But in his remarks at the meetings, Mr. Corradino cautioned that all of the traffic fixes his company will propose in the coming months will not address long stretches of the two major highways in Petoskey, U.S. 31 and M-119. The Michigan Department of Transportation manages and maintains those roads, and MDOT director Kirk Steudle told the Institute that his agency wants to first see what local residents want in their local transportation system before his agency proposes any big changes to those major thoroughfares.

Mr. Corradino said another big challenge is finding the funding for any proposed roadway changes.

After receiving the public input at the meetings, the Corradino Group is scheduled to do a comprehensive analysis of what changes to roadways will be the most efficient as well as affordable.

The proposed changes that were listed at the meetings include:

  • Adding a sidewalk along Mitchell St., between downtown and the school complex.
  • Installing a bike and pedestrian path on Anderson Rd. that connects to the city.
  • Building sidewalks in area townships.
  • Building a bike path through Bay View on old railroad land.
  • Building a bike path along Cemetery Rd.
  • Installing a bike path along Mitchell Road, from downtown to Bill’s Farm Market, just east of Maplewood Dr.
  • Improve the bike path along M-119, all the way into downtown Petoskey.
  • Extend Atkins, Intertown, Lears and McDougal Rds.
  • Improve access from Division Rd. to U.S. 31.
  • Widen the intersection of Intertown Rd. and U.S. 131.
  • Implement safety improvements at Pickerel Lake and U.S. 31.
  • Widen Intertown Rd. from Lake Grove Rd. to U.S. 131.
  • Close Country Club Rd.
  • Install truck routes from M-119 to River Rd. and on Division Rd. to Atkins, McDougal and River Rds.
  • Add a right-turn-only lane on U.S. 31 northbound to Manville Rd.
  • Realign the intersection at Madison St. and U.S. 31.
  • Add a right-turn-only lane on U.S. 31 northbound to Lake St.
  • Craft a light-rail monorail system from Petoskey to Charlevoix or a high-speed rail to Traverse City and Mackinaw.
  • Install a bus transit route, a ferry from Petoskey to Harbor Springs, or a downtown rail trolley.

Glenn Puit is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Emmet County policy specialist. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org

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