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Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone Forever

$30 million bridge over Boardman River damages what we call home and visitors call heaven

June 7, 2002 | By Keith Schneider
and Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Building a new bridge and road through the Boardman River valley will permanently ruin one of the last unspoiled places in the Traverse City metropolitan region

Visitors to northern Michigan these days know that the Grand Traverse region is gradually losing its Up North character to sprawling development and out-of-date traffic planning. Now the Grand Traverse County Road Commission is pushing hard to complete another bad idea – the $30 million Hartman-Hammond bridge and four-lane road through the Boardman River valley.

As Michigan citizens consider what’s happening to the most beautiful areas of this state, they would do well to consider this illogical project and join hundreds of Grand Traverse county residents who are doing everything they can to make sure the bridge never happens.

Why? Because building the bridge will permanently ruin one of the last unspoiled places in the Traverse City metropolitan region.

The road commission says the bridge will solve congestion. It’s not true. Communities in Michigan and every other state have spent tens of billions of dollars building new bridges and highways, and congestion is worse than ever. With the vehicle population increasing two times as fast as the human one in Grand Traverse County, there is absolutely no chance that a new bridge and road will do anything to relieve congestion.

What is true, though, is that citizens are being pushed to trade a natural treasure for another corridor of sprawl like the infamous, strip-malled South Airport Road outside Traverse City.

Indeed, according to mounds of technically sound evidence developed by citizen organizations in the region, the proposed new bridge and road:

• Utterly fails to solve regional traffic snarls. The project will not relieve congestion on South Airport Road while directing even higher volumes of traffic to other boulevards, including the new bridge. Meanwhile 25 percent more traffic than today will inundate Traverse City’s main streets.

• Harms the Boardman River valley. The four-lane bridge would sit on an immense wall of earth higher than the cedars that are there now. It would ruin wildlife habitat and at least five acres of wetlands, including a rare cedar and black ash swamp that cannot be recreated anywhere else.

• Ignores public support for a simpler solution. Many effective, less costly, and less damaging alternatives exist. But the road commission is intent on building its bridge regardless of the damage it will cause and convincing technical evidence that it won’t work.

Guess what? There’s a better way. And it costs $20 million less. Since 1996, hundreds of people who live in the Traverse City region helped to develop effective ideas for easing congestion that cost less and protect natural resources. These proposals successfully balance the need to ease congestion with the commitment to preserve the natural environment that defines the Grand Traverse region.

Here are better alternatives that can be built right away:

• Improve South Airport Road. Enhance traffic flow on congested South Airport Road by re-timing traffic lights, combining commercial driveways, and adding turn lanes to separate fast and slow-moving vehicles. Anticipated cost: $5 million.

• Restore the Cass Road Bridge to two lanes. The road commission has allowed an important Boardman River crossing to deteriorate to a single lane. Fixing it would avoid slicing in half a prized portion of the Boardman River valley. Anticipated cost: $3 million.

• Connect Keystone Road to Hammond Road. This simple new connection would provide greater east-west movement across the region. Motorists could easily reach Acme or Interlochen, and points beyond, without using busy South Airport Road. Anticipated cost: $2 million.

The bridge’s opponents argue that the best communities in the nation are revitalizing their waterways, not paving them. The Traverse City region is still one of the most beautiful places in America. Bridge opponents vow to do everything they can to keep it that way.

On March 15, 2002, five citizen groups filed suit against the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to block construction of the new road and bridge. The citizen groups are All the Way to the Bay, Coalition for Sensible Growth, Michigan Land Use Institute, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and the Sierra Club. These organizations are dedicated to managing traffic and growth in the Grand Traverse region to enhance the quality of life and protect the greatest natural treasures, especially the Boardman River valley.

Abundant open space. Clean water. Great recreation. A small town atmosphere and a family-friendly environment. These are the very qualities that give northern Michigan its unique character. They also are values every citizen in Michigan should do everything in their power to preserve.

Keith Schneider and Kelly Thayer are journalists at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach them at
keith@mlui.org and kelly@mlui.org.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
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