Traverse City News and Events

First City Roundabout Planned, Plus Mixed-Use Development Proposed For West Front

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 28, 2020

The first roundabout located in Traverse City limits is slated for construction this fall or next spring. Traverse City planning commissioners will discuss the project – planned for the intersection of Parsons and Airport Access roads – at their 7pm meeting Tuesday, where they’ll also review a new four-story, 96-unit mixed-use development planned for West Front Street.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has approved a $600,000 project to replace the traffic signal at Parsons and Airport Access roads with a new one-lane roundabout (design pictured). MDOT will provide $540,000 in grant funding through its Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) for the project, while Traverse City is required to contribute a $60,000 match, plus engineering and surveying costs. According to City Engineer Tim Lodge, the redesign will offer significant improvements for pedestrian and cycling safety, including sidewalk ramps meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, pedestrian-scale lighting, and reduced conflict points with traffic.

“Crossing Parsons Road is currently difficult through this intersection due to the lack of pedestrian amenities and the long crossing length,” according to Lodge. “With the conversion to a roundabout, all crossings will have refuge areas, crossing one lane at a time as opposed to 3-4 lanes at a time.”

The roundabout is also expected to slow traffic through the corridor, as well as reduce the number of heavy trucks – frequenting Cherry Capital Airport and the U.S. Coast Guard station – idling at the traffic light. “Currently, motorists waiting at a red light with no cross traffic results in an unnecessary delay to the motorists and negative environmental impact in the form of emissions,” Lodge states. “Conversion to a roundabout will not only eliminate this delay, but will also eliminate the additional emissions from vehicles waiting at a red light in general.”

While Traverse City has a handful of mini traffic circles on Webster Street in Boardman Neighborhood, City Planning Director Russ Soyring says the roundabout will be the first of its kind within city limits. Roundabouts have been proposed elsewhere over the years – such as part of the Eighth Street reconstruction – but never materialized. Meanwhile, they’ve become more common in other parts of the region, including in Acme and Fife Lake townships; another roundabout is planned for 2021 in Blair Township, while up to six more could come to Grand Traverse County in the coming decade.

According to Lodge, the construction schedule “will depend on many factors yet to be determined” – including final design and planning and city commission approval – but would take place either this fall or in spring 2021. “Our goal is to have it completed and operational before the (National Cherry Festival) airshow in 2021,” Lodge says. Temporary access drives will be in place around the construction area to serve the airport, soccer fields, and TART Trail while work is underway.

Lodge notes the city is trying to coordinate roundabout construction with several other projects planned for the corridor. Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) will be rebuilding its athletic facilities near the Coast Guard station, while TART Trails is expected to reconstruct the trail from Airport Access Road to Three Mile Road as soon as this fall. That project will take approximately one week to complete, according to TART Trails Executive Director Julie Clark. She says the organization will host an open house in March to unveil plans for the upgrades, which include widening the trail by two feet and adding landscaping and art improvements in 2021. Soyring adds that the roundabout itself could eventually become a placemaking project; the city is reviewing options to install a “gateway” piece, which could be aeronautical in nature, in the roundabout’s center island in the future to commemorate the area.

In addition to the roundabout design, Traverse City planning commissioners Tuesday will also review a new four-story mixed-use building planned for the Pine Street One Development site at the corner of West Front and Pine streets. The property is already home to a four-story building currently under construction by developers Joe Sarafa and Erik Falconer that will house a new 4Front Credit Union administrative center and other tenants to be announced, including a restaurant. The second building, which will be developed by real estate private equity firm Great Lakes Capital, will be located closer to the Boardman River and include 96 residential units, 5,000 square feet of retail space along Front Street, and 90 parking spaces in a basement parking garage accessed by a shared drive with Riverview Terrace and 4Front.

The project is a use-by-right, meaning the property is already zoned for the proposed plans. However, a planning commission site plan review is required since the development is expected to generate 500 or more vehicle trips per day. Soyring says the building is located further back from the Boardman River than required, though he notes the site is still located within a 100-year floodplain, a risk the developers will have to absorb in addition to acquiring a Michigan Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) permit prior to construction. Soyring says the application otherwise appears to be straightforward; application documents indicate the developers will meet the city’s new stormwater and tree ordinance rules and will provide an easement to the city for future riverwalk construction.

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