GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY Bridge plan draws early opposition

Aug. 25—TRAVERSE CITY — Soaring costs estimates and impacts on the Boardman River Valley were consistent themes at an overflow meeting on the Hartman-Hammond bridge proposal Thursday night.

The Grand Traverse County Road Commission heard an hour of public comments from more than two dozen area residents on the bridge and road corridor plans. Comments were largely against continued pursuit of the corridor plan, as both the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council continue their long-standing opposition to the project.

Most of the opposition centered on spiraling cost estimates for the project, recently pegged by county consultants at about $300 million. The estimate has nearly tripled from the $100 million price tag projected a year ago.

"It's a shocking number for this community for new infrastructure," said T.J. Andrews, a member of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners.

City Commissioner Mitch Treadwell also urged road commissioners to consider other, less-costly options for improving east-west traffic movement, including upgrades to South Airport Road.

"There are other policies and activities that can be taken at dramatically less cost," Treadwell said.

The current version of the bridge proposal kicked off in 2019, when Road Commission consultants OHM Advisors began a transportation study and a Planning and Environmental Linkage to determine if a new river crossing was needed and where it should be constructed.

The $2 million study included several public hearings and presented three bridge options and their estimated costs. The PEL study determined that the Hartman-Hammond option would divert an estimated 37 percent of the traffic from South Airport Road, and create the least environmental impact.

Much of the public comment from those hearings supported the bridge construction to ease growing traffic congestion south of Traverse City, and specifically on South Airport Road.

A couple of local residents concurred with those sentiments at Thursday's meeting, pointing to the significant growth in population and commercial development south of Traverse City as justification for another east-west road option.

"I support the bridge — I think it's much needed," Traverse City resident Katie Kniss said. "It's going to cut traffic."

The environmental impact of the project on the Boardman River Valley is another major point of contention for bridge opponents.

"It's the cost to the environment is what I oppose," longtime NMEAC member Ann Rogers said. "We have a very precious thing in our Boardman Valley and we need to protect it."

Road Commissioner Jason Gillman acknowledged some frustration over what he termed the "ludicrous" cost increases for the corridor. But he said some of those costs are related to lessening the environmental impact of the work on the river and the adjoining wetlands.

"Do you want to argue for the cost, or do you want to argue for the environmental impact?" Gillman said.

While a formal public comment period on the bridge and corridor plan is still at least several months away, the Road Commission will soon begin conducting stakeholder workshops to continue planning for the project.

OMH consultant Bill Zipp said those meetings will include local municipalities, transportation agencies, trucking companies, law enforcement and other interested parties. Environmental groups also will be part of those discussions.