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Framework For Sprawl (Page2)

Highway building lobby keeps the pavement spreading

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

"People are moving to this area because of its natural beauty and because it isn't like downstate, yet," said Robert A. Carstens, a special education teacher from Williamsburg and a member of the Coalition for Sensible Growth, a 500-member grassroots group opposedtothebridgeproject and bypass. "We deserve the opportunity to not repeat the mistakes of Detroit, Flint, Lansing, and Grand Rapids."

The idea for a bypass linking Hartman and Hammond roads was first introduced by the Road Commission 14 years ago. It was soundly rejected in 1987 by residents, who voted not to increase property taxes to build it and several other road projects.

In the spring of 1996, the idea resurfaced after the Road Commission found a new source of state construction funds and published a study proposing three potential routes. Now state and county transportation officials are packaging the connector roads between Hartman and Hammond and the bridge as separate from the bypass.

"Smart Roads" Break Out of Rut
The public conversation over the proposed Traverse City bypass is heavily influenced by two facts:

  • The population of Grand Traverse County grew from 64,273 in 1990 to 73,161 in 1997, a 13.8% increase.
  • According to the Secretary of State's office, the vehicle population during the same period grew even faster, from 64,897 to 76,881, an increase of 18.3%.

But how can the Grand Traverse region remain a world apart if its strategy for solving congestion woes is so conventional?

It can't, says Mark Nixon, a lifelong resident of Traverse City and co-founder of the Coalition for Sensible Growth. The solution, he said, is not to add road capacity but to provide residents with more access by making destinations closer and easier to reach.

"The Boardman River bridge and the bypass are symbolic of the old 1950s highway mentality, and they will result in more sprawl," he said. "What we've been trying to do is help people climb over a conceptual hurdle and look at solving congestion by thinking much harder about how we design our community."

With the assistance of the Michigan Land Use Institute, the Coalition introduced a workable alternative to move traffic without damaging the environment and causing more sprawl. Known as "Smart Roads," it calls for redesigning existing roads, bridges, and intersections, establishing more compact and walkable development, and vastly improving public transit to make it attractive and convenient for people to use their cars less.

"One of the consequences of the sprawl landscape is that people don't have time to reflect on their own driving behavior and the original reason why they came here," said Mr. Nixon. "When we started the Coalition three years ago the prevailing attitude was the bypass was a mountain and it couldn't be moved.

"That is certainly different now," he added. "The Road Commission had an Open House in late June, and it was really noticeable that more people came by our table and were truly interested in an alternative. There's no question. This mountain can be moved." -- Keith Schneider and Kelly Thayer/With reporting by Arlin Wasserman

CONTACTS:Kelly Thayer at the Institute, 231-882-4723 x13; Michael Dillenbeck, Grand Traverse County Road Commission, 231- 922-4848 x201; Mark Nixon, Coalition for Sensible Growth, P.O. Box 4627, Traverse City, MI 49685, 231-929-4310.

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