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Citizens Create Workable Blueprint to Ease Congestion, Save Money

Proposed Traverse City bypass

December 1, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
and Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Two years after the Grand Traverse County Road Commission proposed to build a 33-mile, $300 million highway bypass south of Traverse City and span the beautiful Boardman River Valley with a costly four-lane bridge, local residents have put forward an alternative plan that is less expensive, less damaging, and will more effectively address the area's growing traffic congestion problems.

The plan, Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region, is a citizen-driven transportation and land use blueprint that takes into account continued population growth in northwest Michigan. The plan was developed through a series of public meetings in 1998 in which hundreds of citizens offered sensible and innovative approaches to increasing mobility while preserving the area's quality of life. The project is managed by the Traverse City- based Coalition for Sensible Growth, a citizens organization, and the Institute.

Redesigning Existing Roads

Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region would remedy traffic problems and eliminate the need for the proposed bypass and bridge by:

• Redesigning and improving existing roads.

• Making mass transit more convenient and comfortable.

• Promoting new construction in already developed areas.

Smart Roads complements the Grand Traverse region's often-stated goal of preserving open space and relieving development pressure on farmland, forests, and recreational areas. The focus of its approach is making existing roads work better, rather than shifting the problem into the countryside. Studies show that building more and wider roads through rural lands uses tax dollars to subsidize suburban sprawl. This causes congestion as more cars rush to the latest developments.

"Our plan raises the interests of the community, families, neighborhoods, and local small businesses to the same level as the County Road Commission's interest in building more roads," said Mark Nixon, a founding member of the Coalition for Sensible Growth. "Part of the problem is that we have the Road Commission designing the future -- in effect doing town planning -- and doing it poorly. Sprawl inevitably follows the major investment of public spending for new roads."

An Effective Alternative

According to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, the bridge and bypass are needed to relieve congestion on South Airport Road, a major east-west thoroughfare. The Commission projects that without the bypass, South Airport Road's traffic will grow from the current daily volume of 29,500 vehicles to about 46,500 in 2015. They say the bypass project would divert the increase in traffic volume, in part, by widening Hartman and Hammond roads to four lanes and connecting them with a bridge.

Area residents, however, strongly object to the proposal because it is part of the same failed approach that has been used throughout the nation for 50 years. They are convinced a Traverse City bypass will invite more traffic, increase congestion, and accelerate sprawl. It also would ruin a largely untouched wild area of wetlands and forests in the Boardman River Valley, which residents say should be preserved.

The Coalition for Sensible Growth presented the Smart Roads plan last autumn to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, Garfield Township Planning Commission, New Designs for Growth (a growth management project sponsored by the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce), and the Michigan Department of Transportation. With the formal publication of the plan and the organizing of widespread public support for it, Coalition members are working to have Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region receive full consideration by the Road Commission as an effective alternative to the proposed bypass project.

Take Action

Area residents can support Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region by taking the following steps:

• Familiarize yourself with the details of the plan. To receive a copy contact Arlin Wasserman at the Institute, 616-271-3683, E-mail arlin@mlui.org.

• Attend Coalition for Sensible Growth meetings and presentations to government bodies. For further information contact Mark Nixon, P.O. Box 4627, Traverse City, MI 49685-4627, 616-929-4310, E-mail csg@michiweb.com.

• Call or write the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to let them know you support Smart Roads and don't want to pay the financial, social, and environmental costs of a four-lane bypass and new bridge through the Boardman River Valley. The address is 3949 Silver Lake Road, Traverse City, MI 49684, and the telephone is 616-922-4848.

• Become a member of the Institute’s Transportation and Land Use Initiative, which is working in the Grand Traverse region and statewide to improve transportation choices and stop sprawl. To join, call 616-882-4723.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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