Traverse City News and Events

East Front/Parkway Project: Construction Updates, Business Struggles & More

By Beth Milligan | March 17, 2024

The first week of construction is officially in the books for the East Front Street/Grandview Parkway project. Progress moved quickly as crews worked around-the-clock for week one, but construction was not without hiccups – including traffic backups and businesses that saw significant sales declines, water service disruptions, and in one case a damaged building wall. The Ticker has a recap of week one and a look ahead to week two, plus news on the planned TART Trail reconstruction in the same corridor and more upcoming construction projects that could affect local detours.

Construction/Business Updates
Team Elmer’s – the construction firm hired by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to lead the $24.7 million rebuild of Grandview Parkway/East Front Street – had crews on the ground 24/7 for week one. Crews were working on Segment 1 on East Front Street between Garfield Avenue and Grandview Parkway, as well as from Garfield north to Peninsula Drive. Workers installed temporary traffic control measures, mobilized equipment and materials, and removed asphalt surface, underlying concrete pavement, and sidewalks. “Our team did a phenomenal job working around the clock to complete removals and start safety shoring installation,” says Project Manager Nick Broad of Team Elmer’s.

Multiple business owners also posted on social media this week in praise of Team Elmer’s, saying that crews were friendly and working hard to make progress. Still – as is inevitable in major construction projects involving decades-old infrastructure – hiccups arose. Traverse Bay Café was not able to open Thursday due to water pressure issues, the restaurant posted on Facebook. Tonya Wildfong of Team Elmer’s confirms “temporary interruption to service occurred while installing safety shoring,” but that crews “worked to restore service as quickly as possible.” The restaurant was back open again on Friday.

At The Blue Goat, sidewalk removal work in front of the building destabilized a foundation wall, causing it to partially sink and a crack to form up the building’s side in the exterior stucco. Business owner Sebastian Garbsch says it appears that when the sidewalks were repaired in the past, concrete was poured directly up to the building; ripping that sidewalk out caused the destabilization. Team Elmer’s assisted with temporary reinforcement in the basement so the building is safe and open for use and protected during further construction. Longer-term repairs will have to be worked out with the building’s owner, contractors, and insurance companies, Garbsch says.

The damage was one of several hurdles facing The Blue Goat this week. Peninsula Drive was supposed to be open to two-way traffic up to The Blue Goat to allow for rear access to businesses along the stretch, but a no-entry sign blocking traffic was put up east of the Mutual gas station that prevented westbound traffic from reaching The Blue Goat. That was eventually moved back mid-week to provide two-way vehicle access, but The Blue Goat – along with other businesses in the construction zone – have still taken a major hit. Garbsch says sales were down 80 percent in the first several days. Numerous businesses in Campus Plaza posted directions for reaching them (using Milliken, Fair, and East Front) and pleaded for continued visits from customers. “We need your support,” Benjamin Twiggs posted on Facebook, sharing a photo of an empty Campus Plaza parking lot. “This is not normal, and we cannot survive three months of this.”

Businesses are trying to get creative, posting individualized detour maps to their locations, encouraging online and gift card purchases, offering delivery or curbside pick-ups, and sharing each other’s social media posts in a collaborative spirit of mutual support. Garbsch says he plans to make a timelapse video driving the detour to show how quick and easy it is to reach businesses in the construction zone. “Businesses already lose a good amount of money this time of year...if we lose double that amount, we can’t make it up,” he says. “Fully closing down could actually be cheaper than staying open, but we have employees we’re trying to support. This is their full-time job, not a fun side hustle. In the long term, (the road) will be great, we just have to try and get through the next two to three months.”

For week two, crews will focus heavily on underground infrastructure replacement, including storm sewer and watermain along Garfield Avenue and sanitary sewer replacements and storm sewer east of Barlow Street. Murchie Bridge work will also continue. In addition to the main detour, drivers should expect intermittent closures of Barlow Street and potential intermittent traffic stops on Murchie Bridge. This week will focus on “installing all the things you cannot see, and take for granted, when you brush your teeth with running water or flush the toilet,” says Wildfong. According to the City of Traverse City, additional signs and rumble strips are being deployed at the Eastern Avenue/Milliken Drive intersection, which is an all-way stop during construction. The city also plans to expedite the installation of speed bumps along Sheridan Road between Center Road and Eastern Avenue to decrease vehicle speeds.

Weather permitting – and if crews maintain their current pace – East Front access between Peninsula Drive and Garfield Avenue will reopen in late May, with traffic shifting to the south side of the road as crews finish up in the corridor, according to Wildfong. All of Segment 1 is scheduled for completion before the National Cherry Festival. A break will occur for the festival and then work will start on Segment 2 on Grandview Parkway from East Front to Division (one lane of traffic will be open in each direction).

TART Trail Reconstruction
City commissioners will vote Monday on waiving the competitive bid process for the reconstruction of the TART Trail downtown and instead directly enter negotiations with Team Elmer’s to do the work. That motion, which requires five affirmative votes, would be followed by a contract brought to the commission for approval in April. The city plans to replace and widen the TART Trail from Murchie Bridge west to Clinch Park and from the west side of Sunset Park eastward through the Traverse City Senior Center, as well as install new trail on the south side of Grandview Parkway from Division Street to Hall Street along Bay Street.

Both City Engineer Anne Pagano and design/engineering firm Progressive AE recommended sole-sourcing the project with Team Elmer’s since that company is already handling the road reconstruction. That will save on mobilization and traffic control costs, eliminate staging and communication conflicts with a second contractor, and speed up the project timeline, according to memos from Pagano and Progressive AE. The same crews working on the road can “complete parts of the TART Trail in the same zone,” according to Progressive AE. “This should reduce subcontractor costs and provide a cost savings to both projects.” Timing is also critical so that trail and road work can happen simultaneously instead of having an additional closure in the future for trail work, Pagano said.

Other Upcoming Construction Projects
Two other major construction projects are set to begin soon in Traverse City that could affect local traffic flow. Team Elmer’s, contracting with the City of Traverse City, will begin a full reconstruction of the Union/Eighth intersection downtown on April 1. The work – which was part of a packaged bid with the Cass/Eighth reconstruction last fall but couldn’t get completed in time with that other intersection – should be done by the end of April, weather permitting. The intersection will be closed to all vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. Access to all businesses and residences – and the Old Town parking deck – will be maintained.

The Grand Traverse County Road Commission will also begin constructing a roundabout at the Garfied/Potter intersection at the end of April. Work is expected to begin April 22 and continue through June 25. The intersection will be closed to all traffic during that time. Detours will be in place using Three Mile and Hammond roads.

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