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Proposed Boardman River Bridge Illogical, Unnecessary

Road plan will cause sprawl, won’t solve congestion

May 8, 2002 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  "The onrushing tide of our times, of building something bigger, better, faster has swallowed up the natural countryside almost before we even realize it is gone — the plague of urban sprawl."

Once in a generation — once every 20 years or so — we each have an opportunity to make a statement about our community and the future of our region. That moment is now.

In March the Michigan Land Use Institute and a coalition of four other regional and national environmental and conservation organizations filed suit in state court against the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. The purpose: To block construction of a $30 million road and bridge across the Boardman River valley — a magnificent stretch of natural river and quiet forests just south of Traverse City.

I have been a resident of Traverse City for over 50 years now, so this area has been very deeply imprinted on my husband and me. We have been imprinted by the wondrous natural beauty of this north country. The Boardman River valley is the last truly wild area in the gre ater metropolitan region. Each year that passes increases the area’s value for the animals that live there and the thousands of people who visit its rolling hills, its woods, and its waters. Those moving depths, which an Indian chief once called, ‘the smile of the Great Spirit.’

I’ve also been around long enough to see the welcome improvements to our community that have come with its steady growth. And I’ve seen the unwelcome consequences too. The proposed bridge across the Boardman River is an unnecessary, damaging, and illogical consequence that we all should do everything in our power to avoid. It will cut this magnificent valley in half with a wall of earth higher than the cedars there now, ruin wetlands, damage water quality, and bring nearly 30,000 cars and trucks a day.

People come to the Grand Traverse region in search of a way of life that is truly unique in Michigan and the nation. The magnificent setting. The high quality of life. Perhaps too few realize how rare and how fragile it is. How the onrushing tide of our times, of building something bigger, better, faster has swallowed up the natural countryside almost before we even realize it is gone — the plague of urban sprawl.

Sprawl follows roads, specifically big, new roads. As surely as spring follows winter, sprawl follows roads. If you build it, they will come. The traffic, the noise, the congestion, the billboards. Do you recall Joyce Kilmore’s poem? ‘I think that I shall never see a billboard as lovely as a tree.’
The proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge is said by its supporters to be a transportation solution for our rapid and ongoing area growth. Don’t believe it. This misguided proposal will not only fail to reduce congestion but in the process will wreck the values that draw us here in the first place. The destruction of vital wetlands and wildlife habitat, the inevitable urban sprawl, is part of the price.

The proposed road and bridge across the Boardman is so unreasonable that 15 years ago 71 percent of Grand Traverse County voters rejected it in a referendum. Four years ago the Michigan Land Use Institute and its partners developed "Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region," a less expensive, much less damaging, and more effective alternative to solving traffic congestion. Last year the city commission in Traverse City voted the road-and-bridge project down. The road commission’s failure to listen to publics concerns and explore more effective, less destructive ideas is what lies at the heart of the lawsuit.

So many citizens and organizations are working terribly hard in our region to improve the quality of life while at the same time taking care to minimize the damage to land and a rare small town way of life. They include the partners in the coalition that filed the lawsuit — the Coalition for Sensible Growth, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, the local affiliate and national Sierra Club, and All The Way to the Bay, a canoe racers group.

Will we be remembered by our children and then their children for having decided to build a highway through this area? Are we going to decide that the river valley is the place we should urbanize so that we have urbanized every last square inch of this region? Is that the legacy we’re seeking to leave behind?

Or do we want to be remembered for being people who at the beginning of a new century advanced a different vision that says, yes, let’s manage and solve our problems but let’s also protect some irreplaceable places forever. Halting this bridge and bypass and securing a landscape and a way of life that all of us cherish is the gift I want to give to the future. Surely you do too.

Helen Milliken, Michigan’s former first lady, is a board member of the Michigan Land Use Institute. A version of this article was published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on April 24, 2002.

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