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Road Commission Agrees to Broader Environmental Review of New Bridge

Necessary for key link in proposed highway bypass

September 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

In a significant step forward for opponents of the proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge that would cross the Boardman River, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission has adopted a consultant's recommendations to conduct a more substantial environmental review of the project.

The consultant, Johnson, Johnson and Roy, Inc., of Ann Arbor, presented the following conclusions to the Road Commission:

• The new bridge, which is the central structure in a proposed 30-mile, $300-million bypass of Traverse City, could significantly change land use and traffic patterns in much of Grand Traverse County.

• The Road Commission should expand the area to be studied and consider how a new highway would spur development in the countryside.

• Alternatives to building the new bridge need to be explored.

The consultant's eight-page memorandum, which became public under a Freedom of Information Act request, resulted in a sharp reversal in policy for the Road Commission. It also validates the objections to the Hartman-Hammond bridge raised by the Coalition for Sensible Growth, a citizens group in Traverse City.

Last May the Road Commission sought to accelerate planning for the bridge by releasing an environmental review, which concluded that building it would have no significant environmental effects.

The Coalition submitted its own evaluation to the Road Commission and to the Federal Highway Administration. It noted numerous technical deficiencies in the Road Commission's assessment, such as the understatement of the number of acres of wetlands that would be ruined.

The Coalition's report also took issue with the Road Commission's justification for the new bridge. County highway officials have routinely asserted in public that the four-lane bridge is simply a replacement for an older one-lane bridge to the south. By doing so, the Road Commission sought to conduct a far less rigorous environmental review, and thus quicken the pace of the project.

However the Coalition unearthed internal Road Commission documents and letters to federal agencies that stated privately that the bridge was the central link in the proposed Traverse City Bypass. Under state and federal law, such a major project requires a more comprehensive environmental review that could take several years to complete.

CONTACTS: Mike Dillenbeck, Director, Grand Traverse County Road Commission, 616-922-4848. Ken Smith, Coalition for Sensible Growth, 616-929-4310. Arlin Wasserman, Michigan Land Use Institute, 616-271-3683.

New Institute Project Promotes Better Choices for Getting Where We Want to Go

In partnership with the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Institute has established a project to build popular support for a diversified transportation system in northern Michigan.

The project, known as the Transportation and Land Use Policy Initiative, is designed to accomplish two primary objectives:

• Halt the wasteful construction of more than $2 billion in new highways that have been proposed for the region.

 • Work with local governments to design and install an alternative transportation program that moves people and goods more comfortably and efficiently, and incorporates land use reforms to rein in suburban sprawl.

The Initiative is inspired by the success of alternative transportation and land use programs conceived for Portland, by 1000 Friends of Oregon, and for Chicago and its suburbs by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Among the alternatives under consideration for northern Michigan:

• Repair existing roads and bridges.

• Coordinate traffic light signals using computerized timing devices to improve traffic flow.

• Implement traffic calming within neighborhoods to slow driver speeds, make streets more inviting and safer for bicyclists, pedestrians, and children, and gently steer drivers back to main thoroughfares.

• Construct a larger network of bicycle and pedestrian pathways in and around villages and cities.

• Install express bus service to connect village centers.

• Build light rail lines on old freight corridors.

• Establish new land use measures that encourage in-fill development, curb sprawl, and maintain the region's traditional walkable communities.

CONTACTS: Howard Learner, Environmental Law and Policy Center, 35 E. Wacker, Chicago, IL 60601. Tel. 312-759- 3040; Keith Schneider at the Institute, 616-882-4723.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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