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Stop the Boardman River Bridge!

Memo and public comments to the Traverse City Commission

July 8, 2003 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

TO: Interested Michigan decision-makers
FROM: Michigan Land Use Institute
RE: Proposed highway in Grand Traverse County

Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project
Fact Sheet

Project: The four- and five-lane Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project is proposed to bypass Traverse City just to the south and east. The state would pay about one-third of the projected $40 million cost of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission’s project. The road commission is asking the federal government to pay for most of the rest, with local taxpayers seen as a back-up option.

Harm: The new highway would be one of the region’s busiest roads, sending nearly 30,000 cars and trucks a day barreling through the vibrant Boardman River valley and bisecting one of Grand Traverse County’s largest and finest parks. In effect, the state would pay for creating the park and then ruining it. The state — via the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund — currently is paying for a 1.5-mile extension of the county park and — via the Michigan Department of Transportation — for the highway and bridge that would cut it in half.

In the valley, the project would fill at least 5 acres of wetlands along the Boardman River, a blue-ribbon trout stream that provides 30 percent of the freshwater flowing into Grand Traverse Bay. At its eastern end, the project would dump traffic right at the entrance to Traverse City State Park on Lake Michigan.

Urgency: The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality currently is reviewing the road commission’s application submitted May 15 for state permits to fill wetlands and alter streams. MDEQ on July 17 in Traverse City will hold a public hearing on the application. The road commission must show that no effective transportation alternatives to the project exist. A coalition of groups asserts that viable options do exist, at less cost and environmental harm.

Solution: Adhere to a fix-it-first policy by repairing the existing Cass Road Bridge at a cost of only $2 million, according to the road commission’s own estimate. Then make small, smart changes to better link local roads and upgrade public transit. Hundreds of local residents developed this proposed solution in grassroots meetings and named it Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region. The alternative would save the state about $16 million, the federal government about $18 million more, and would spare the county’s Grand Traverse Nature Education Reserve from destruction.

Advocates for a Better Way:

  • The Traverse City Commission on June 2, 2003, voted 6-1 against the project, reaffirming its long-standing position because the project would generate more traffic in the city and sprawl on the fringe. The written goal of the project includes easing the city’s congestion, which it fails to do.
  • A January 2003 poll in the Traverse City Record-Eagle showed the public was split on the issue when told an alternative exists, notably finding 73 percent of 18-29 year olds opposed to it.
  • Former Michigan First Lady Helen Milliken is a lead spokesperson against the project.
  • Acme Township is opposed to the project.
  • More than 100 fishermen in 2002 formed a group called Anglers of the Boardman exclusively to oppose the road and bridge project through the Boardman River Valley.
  • In 2002, several groups — the Michigan Land Use Institute, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, the state and national Sierra Club, the Coalition for Sensible Growth, and All the Way to the Bay — sued to stop the project. The lawsuit is on hold and was dismissed as premature because the project’s design was not complete.
  • In 1987, the public rejected the project by more than 71 percent in a millage vote involving several proposed new roads. The road commission has never sought another public vote.


June 2, 2003

TO: Traverse City Commission at its regular meeting
FROM: Kelly Thayer, transportation project manager
  Michigan Land Use Institute
RE: Hartman-Hammond road and bridge project

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

I’m Kelly Thayer, transportation project manager at the Michigan Land Use Institute. The Institute is a non-profit Smart Growth group with headquarters in Benzie County, and offices in Traverse City (at Building 50), and in Lansing and Grand Rapids.

For the last 5 years, I’ve worked in Traverse City, in other communities, and at the state capital to promote a fix-it-first road repair policy and advance public transit, bicycling, and walking options that meet the needs of all people — including seniors, youth, and people with disabilities.

At the Institute, we’ve worked for years to challenge the proposed Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge project because of the lack of traffic relief it offers the city and the sprawl corridor it would push through the Boardman River valley.
Instead, the Institute and a local coalition of partners continue to support Smart Roads: Grand Traverse Region, a viable alternative that would fix the Cass Road bridge, modernize existing roads, and strengthen public transit.

As you consider the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge issue tonight, we ask that you consider these three, key questions:

What’s the benefit to Traverse City?
We believe the answer is “virtually nothing.”
Planners rate traffic flow with the letter grades A through F, just like in school, with A for free-flowing and F for crawling along. The road commission has promised in writing that the Hartman-Hammond bridge and highway would ease east-west traffic congestion in the city. Instead, according to the road commission’s own studies, Grandview Parkway’s grade would decline from a D to an E and Eighth Street’s would drop from a C to an E. Two E’s is not progress. It’s failure.

Secondly, what’s the economic cost to Traverse City?
The cost is direct and it’s staggering. The road commission now says that the cost has ballooned to $40 million, a once-in-a-generation taxpayer expense. The road commission sought taxpayer support for this back in 1987, and was rejected by 71 percent of regional voters.

Now the road commission would rather take money from the public’s pocket than to ask again. The road commission at this moment is seeking a special $18 million earmark from Congress for the project. Traverse City residents will pay for this every time they buy a gallon of gasoline, with some of the state and federal gas taxes going to the road and bridge.

Meanwhile, city transportation needs will go unmet. That’s because a relatively small region such as ours only gets one shot at this federal earmark money. The road commission would spend it all on another S. Airport Road, instead of investing it in smaller, more effective upgrades in the city and across the region.

Finally, what’s the environmental cost to the city and the region?
The expected damage includes the loss of about 4.5 acres of wetlands.
Most of these water-cleansing swamps are directly connected to the Boardman River, which itself supplies nearly a third of the freshwater flowing into Grand Traverse Bay.

Consider that the 26,600 cubic yards of wetland dredging planned by the road commission would amount to excavating a football field (with end zones) about 13 feet deep. And the 64,300 cubic yards of wetland fill would bury an area the size of a football field (with end zones) under 32 feet, or about 3 stories, of dirt.

Then a bridge would be dropped on top just 10 feet off the water, with nearly 30,000 cars and trucks going across it at the onset and more to come. That’s the traffic volume we see on S. Airport Road today. And all of this would occur in what will be one of the county’s largest and finest parks, as the Grand Traverse Nature Education Reserve soon expands northward all the way to the YMCA.

In summary, the Hartman-Hammond road and bridge project fails to ease city traffic, costs city residents a bundle, and degrades the Boardman River valley and the region’s premier freshwater resources.

Voters have never supported this, more than 100 anglers have formed a group called Anglers of the Boardman to oppose it, and the Institute and the region’s other leading environmental groups have partnered to stop it — through citizen and legal action. We’re currently preparing to challenge the road commission’s application to the state Department of Environmental Quality to fill wetlands and alter streams. There’s still time to pursue a better way to manage traffic and growth.

And your decision tonight could make all the difference. Please stand firm on your consistent opposition to the road and bridge project. Please you’re your members of Congress to support the city and not undermine it. Please tell the state DEQ to protect your prized places and not pave them. And please tell city residents you won’t support spending their money to weaken their community.

Together we can do much better than this. Thank you very much.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org