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No Silver Bullet for TC’s East-West Traffic

Planning board should take caution on recent traffic analysis

Local Motion | April 25, 2014 | By James Bruckbauer

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James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at james@mlui.org.

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Even if the Grand Traverse Road Commission builds a bridge to connect Hartman and Hammond roads, traffic on Beitner Road will be 75% over-capacity sometime between 2041 and 2047, according to MDOT's traffic projections.

Recently, TC-TALUS—this region’s transportation and land use planning body—released a memo that described the challenges with our road network’s ability to handle the traffic that travels between the east and west sides of the Grand Traverse region.

The memo also included a chart that summarized the congestion relief some widening projects might provide to other roads.

The document, which can be found here, is intended to help the TC-TALUS board prioritize major transportation projects for the region’s long-range transportation plan. Here are my reactions:

1) Board can’t decide without first understanding costs.

First and foremost, the board needs more information, including cost estimates, before prioritizing a list of transportation projects. So far, cost estimates for the projects are not available.

2) MDOT’s traffic projections should be taken with grain of salt.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) assumes that traffic will continue to increase on our roads anywhere from 34% to 63% over the next 23 years.

I’m not sure this is a safe assumption. Over the last 17 years, for example, traffic on Grandview Parkway has only increased by 23%.

Here’s a chart that shows actual traffic counts on Grandview compared to MDOT’s traffic projections.

Click to enlarge

IF the board decides to use these projections as justification for action, then they should keep these other points in mind.

3) Beitner Road upgrades are dismissed too early.

Even though the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, MLUI, environmental groups, and Grand Traverse County Road Commission members have all endorsed efforts to upgrade Keystone and Beitner roads to provide a bypass for trucks and commuters, the memo dismisses the project as “marginal at best” without a clear explanation.

According to MDOT’s traffic forecast, adding two lanes to Beitner Road would take about 10 percent of the traffic off Grandview Parkway. To me, that’s significant, and tells me that the project shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.

TC-TALUS board members cannot make an informed decision without gaining a better understanding of the costs and potential benefits of the project.

4) TC-TALUS should prioritize existing roads first.

Even if the region takes on one of the capacity projects like building a bridge to connect Hartman and Hammond roads, traffic on Beitner Road will be 75% over-capacity sometime between 2041 and 2047, according to MDOT’s traffic projections.

This means that at some point soon, the road commission will have to upgrade Beitner Road anyway to handle capacity, according to the modeling results.

If the road commission will have to follow through on multiple—if not all—of the projects listed on the memo anyway, why not prioritize existing roads first?

5) The board should use the right language: “temporary relief,” not “solution.”

IF MDOT’s projections are correct, then none of these proposed projects will “solve” any of our transportation problems. Because traffic continues to increase (anywhere from 34% to 63% over the next 28 years, according to the projections), these projects provide only “temporary relief” to the problem of increasing congestion.

6) Demand management is not mentioned anywhere in the memo.

The board should also keep in mind that almost every transportation consultant that has worked in this region over the past decade has told us that the most cost-effective way to remedy traffic congestion is with demand-side strategies, like encouraging more commuters to share rides, ride transit, and bike and walk to work. If we want to reduce traffic in this region, we need to reduce traffic, not move it somewhere else.

We’ve been carefully analyzing transportation policy in this region for nearly two decades. The traffic strategies that we recommend, which have been endorsed by transportation consultants all over the country, focus on a combination of road improvements like upgrading Keystone and Beitner roads; improving Division Street and Grandview Parkway; upgrading South Airport Road; and managing the demand for car travel.

In order to complete its long-range plan on time, the board must make some tough decisions over the next couple months. I hope they focus on fixing our existing roads before expecting a major project to solve all our problems.

1 Comment

3661 days ago, 10:34am | by Jonathan | Report Comment

As a pretty fresh transplant to TC, I am amazed that there is a road going through the most prime and awesome park of town (the bay). It separates downtown from the parks and beaches, and makes the town louder, less attractive, and less convenient to enjoy. Are there any plans to get rid of this road by diverting traffic (like you mention in this article), in an effort to connect downtown to the lake? It seems like that plan will only lessen traffic--shouldn't we aim to get rid of this road all together?

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