Traverse City News and Events

City To Tackle Two More Bridge Projects This Year

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 19, 2022

With delays potentially pushing the completion of the West Front Street bridge back to July or August this year and the reconstruction of Grandview Parkway starting in March 2023, Traverse City leaders are trying to squeeze in two more planned bridge projects this year – the repair of the North Cass Street and South Union Street bridges – without overlapping with those other projects.

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members received an update about the bridge projects at their Friday meeting. According to DDA CEO Jean Derenzy, the West Front Street bridge – under construction now and originally slated to be finished by June – could now take until July or August to complete. That’s due to a trio of delays, including material delays (which have been impacting construction projects across the country), winter weather delays, and construction challenges.

“We’ve had a lot of trouble getting (the pilings) to the depth that they need to be to support the bridge,” said City Engineering Administrative Assistant Kaitlyn Aldrich. She said the city removed roughly 500 tons of boulders from the riverbank that were preventing pilings from being properly driven into place. “On top of that, once we got in there, the sediment wasn’t quite as stable as expected, so we had to do…some last-minute design changes to add some more piles.”

Aldrich noted the city’s original construction schedule called for a period of downtime over the winter, but said the shutdown will likely be eliminated now to keep the project on track. Derenzy said she spoke to City Engineer Tim Lodge and was pushing to have the bridge done by July, but said she wanted to be “realistic that it could be delayed” until August.

In the meantime, on the heels of finishing three other bridge projects last year – including on Park, Eighth, and South Cass streets – city staff are gearing up to tackle two more bridge projects this year: the repair of the North Cass Street and South Union Street bridges. Unlike West Front Street, neither bridge is a complete reconstruction project; instead, the bridge decking will be replaced at both locations. Aldrich said the foundations of both bridges will remain intact, and workers “are not doing any work in the water.”

The North Cass Street bridge, an $800,000 project, will include the replacement and widening of sidewalks from five feet to over eight feet, new bridge railing, and pedestrian-scale lighting. The project will also improve head clearance under the bridge. “It’s pretty tight in there for river users,” Aldrich said. She noted the city can only lift the bridge by a few inches or risk coming out of alignment with adjacent alleys, but said the improvement would still be more comfortable for river users.

The South Union Street bridge, a $1.7 million project, will include the replacement and widening of sidewalks from eight feet to nearly ten feet, new railings – including a pedestrian railing approaching the bridge and a historic balustrade treatment on the outer edge – and down lighting to illuminate the walkway. Aldrich compared the lighting to that of the Pine Street pedestrian bridge, saying it would only be waist-high and not reflect in the river. Parking spaces will be eliminated from the bridge to make way for the expanded sidewalks. The Boardman River will be closed under both bridges on weekdays while work is underway, but will be open on weekends and holidays between Memorial Day and October 20.

Though long planned and tied to state funding, the two bridge projects are coming at a precarious time in city construction work. Originally intended to be finished by November this year, the projects will now likely be put out to bid in May, have a summer start date, and potentially carry over into next spring. That’s due in part to steel shortages, with Aldrich stating that steel orders are running approximately six months behind. Work could begin on the bridges, but material delays – as on West Front – could stretch the projects out.

Aldrich said firmly Friday that the city would not start work on South Union Street until the West Front Street bridge is complete. Work on North Cass could possibly overlap with West Front, however. DDA board member Jeff Joubran said he opposed starting work on any other downtown bridges until West Front is reopened. Derenzy acknowledged that would be ideal, but pointed out that the city is butting up against another deadline: the March 2023 start of Grandview Parkway reconstruction.  

“Believe me, I get it,” she told Joubran. “(But) having bridges down during Grandview Parkway would be detrimental. We can’t have the bridges down when Grandview Parkway is under construction. It’s too much.” Board Vice Chair Scott Hardy asked whether the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) had any flexibility in its Grandview Parkway start date, saying the potential overlap of projects would “create an economic moat around downtown Traverse City. There’s some serious economic implications to timing on these things.” Derenzy, however, said the state seemed firm in its timeline, with Aldrich adding that MDOT indicated Grandview Parkway simply couldn’t be put off a year to accommodate city projects. If delayed, Grandview Parkway would be pushed back to 2029 or 2030 on the state's project list, she said.

In addition to the DDA review of the bridge work, city planning commissioners also discussed the bridges this week, agreeing unanimously that the projects are consistent with the city’s master plan. Aldrich said Friday that city staff are doing their best to consider all scheduling factors and impacts, including not only the Grandview Parkway reconstruction and material delays but the risk of having one or more bridges down again for an entire winter and possibly even butting up to the National Cherry Festival, as will be the case this year with West Front. “We’ll keep working hard…and take (all of these things) into consideration, and we’ll do the best we can,” she said.

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