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Report Outlines Workable Alternatives

Reduce traffic, save taxpayer money

May 1, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Residents in and around Petoskey are facing a historic choice. Should they agree to allow the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to build a $70 million highway bypass that will fundamentally change the character of the region and fuel sprawl? Or should they back local officials and make a courageous decision to support a less expensive and less damaging alternative?

Last October the Institute launched the Petoskey Alternative Transportation and Land Use Project to work with concerned citizens in finding a positive alternative to the proposed bypass. The project contracted with New Alternatives, Inc., a nationally known firm based in Oak Park, Illinois, that specializes in transportation and land use planning. Rick Kuner, a certified planner and the firm’s president, met in January with citizens and local officials, studied how traffic moves in the region, and evaluated hundreds of pages of documents related to the bypass.

Two Options
Mr. Kuner’s firm recommends pursuing two workable options:
• Modernize local roads, add turn lanes at intersections, and build a limited number of new connector roads.
• Develop a new express route linking existing local roads. It would be designed for speeds of 35–45 mph to enable engineers to plan for a narrower right-of-way and tighter curves than those proposed for the bypass.

Mr. Kuner’s next step includes developing the options into finished plans with active participation by the residents. He will hold community design workshops, where they can draw possible road corridors and other improvements on maps to indicate their preferences, and then coordinate the discussion of the benefits and tradeoffs of each idea.

Then Mr. Kuner will assess the effectiveness of each option to reduce congestion, limit sprawl, preserve open space, and cut construction costs compared to the bypass.

MDOT’s response to the options outlined by Mr. Kuner was mixed. Petoskey Project Manager Dave Geiger agreed that modernizing local roads could improve traffic flow, but he was skeptical of designing a new express route for speeds less than 55 mph.

Different Perspectives
Since 1986, when the Highway Committee of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce first proposed routing traffic around the city, the idea of a bypass has dominated civic debate. MDOT’s current proposal is to build a 9.5 mile-long, two-lane highway bypass through rural Resort and Bear Creek townships. (See map below left.) Part of the plan is to obtain a 300-foot wide right-of-way and widen the highway to four lanes when traffic increases.

Bypass boosters say it is needed to ease summer traffic congestion along the Lake Michigan shore-line and in the downtown business area. But many residents who oppose the bypass, including some local government officials, are looking at the bigger, community-wide picture. They say the bypass would:
• Draw business away from Petoskey’s downtown, promote sprawl, and spur more traffic.
• Increase safety hazards for farmers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
• Ruin a historic agricultural district that produces $10 million in farm products every year, and carve up open space. “Our main concern is that the bypass would divide the township in half and take some of the best farmlands,” said Denny Keiser, a Bear Creek township trustee.
• Harm two world-class trout streams.
• Degrade rural valleys, farms, and scenic views. In a county-wide survey, the vast majority of residents said the preservation of these features is “extremely important.”
• Cause pollutants from road construction and development to run off into freshwater marshes in the Bear River and Tannery Creek watersheds, which empty into Lake Michigan.

CONTACTS: Denny Keiser, Bear Creek Township Trustee, 616-347-1723;
Dave Geiger, MDOT project manager, 517-373-2909.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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