Traverse City News and Events

North Cass, South Union Bridge Projects Start Monday

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 24, 2023

Two major bridge reconstruction projects will start in downtown Traverse City Monday, with both the North Cass and South Union street bridges expected to be closed through June. Other projects near Cass Street this spring – including the reconstruction of Lot B (farmers market lot) and Front Street north alley work between Park and Union – will add to traffic headaches in the area. However, the goal is to get the projects done simultaneously so all work is complete before the National Cherry Festival starts, according to city staff.

Crews will start working on both the North Cass and South Union bridges Monday morning at 9am. Cass Street will be closed between Grandview Parkway and Front Street for the duration of the project. Front Street north alley access will be available between Union and Cass and Cass and Park, but vehicles will not be able to cross Cass, meaning they will have to turn around and exit the alleys the same way they entered off Union and Park. Pedestrians will be able to use the sidewalk north of the Boardman River along the farmers market lot (Lot B) and cross the Boardman River bridge, using the J. Smith Walkway to get to Front Street. The Cass Street pedestrian tunnel will remain open, but the accessible ramp will be closed (those needing an alternative route will be directed to cross Grandview Parkway at Union Street).

Planned work on the North Cass Street bridge includes replacing the existing bridge deck, concrete beams, and railings on the existing foundation; widening sidewalks to 8 feet, 7.5 inches; installing state crash-tested and approved bridge railing detail that is painted black with aesthetic treatment at the ends; and installing new pedestrian railing approaching the bridge.

South Union Street will be closed between the post office and Sixth Street starting Monday. The alley between State Street and the Boardman River will be converted to one-way-traffic for eastbound vehicles only. Pedestrians will be able to walk along the north side of the alley and then cross over the Union Street Dam property to detour around construction and get back to Union Street.

Planned work on the South Union Street bridge includes replacing the existing concrete deck and steel beams on the existing foundation; widening sidewalks to 9 feet, 10 inches; installing state crash-tested and approved bridge railing detail that is painted black along the sidewalk edge, with a historic balustrade pedestrian railing to restore the original aesthetic treatment; and installing new pedestrian railing approaching the bridge.

The two projects were bundled together “to attract bridge contractors to bid on the project, drive competitive pricing, and complete (them) in the shortest amount of time possible,” according to a city release. The total cost for both bridge projects is approximately $4 million, with the majority of funds coming from the MDOT Local Bridge Funding program. While Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) CEO Jean Derenzy told board members last week she was hopeful the bridges could open sooner, both are set to be done by the end of June at the latest. The Boardman River will be closed to traffic during construction.

“As the summer season approaches, the work will conclude on weekdays as possible, but may include weekends to complete the project in a timely manner,” according to the city release. The projects will conclude a multi-year city bridge rehabilitation effort that has also included the previous reconstruction of the Park Street, South Cass, East Eighth, and West Front bridges.

The area around Cass Street could experience the most traffic impacts due to other work taking place in the corridor. The DDA and city are working to address a failing retaining wall and at-risk sewer line in the 100 and 200 north alley blocks of Front Street along the Boardman River. In the 200 block between Park and Cass, crews recently finished work to install new sheet piling to stabilize the retaining wall. Workers will be in the alley for the next few weeks to finish trimming the sheeting and extending outlet pipes, then will work this spring on backfilling and alley treatments. The 200 block alley should be done by late April, Derenzy said.

In the 100 block alley between Cass and Union – which is eventually targeted for a major makeover with a new pedestrian plaza and riverfront improvements – the 24-inch sanitary sewer main that sits directly on top of the retaining wall foundation needs to be relocated further south away from the river. Work to relocate the main and add new leads to the existing businesses will start in April and wrap up by mid-June, according to Derenzy. Vehicle access is maintained when possible during the alley work, though periodic closures are required. The DDA has a contractor representative that works with affected businesses to coordinate deliveries and trash collection, Derenzy said.

The DDA is also set to reconstruct and repave Lot B – the farmers market lot bordered by Grandview Parkway, Cass Street, and the Boardman River – this spring. The reconstruction will see a new median installed that completely separates Lot B from the adjacent Lot T, the permit parking lot at the corner of Grandview Parkway and Union Street. That clear separation could allow Lot T to be redeveloped in the future, since – unlike Lot B – Lot T doesn’t sit on city parkland and can be repurposed for other uses. While pedestrians will be able to cross between the two parking lots, cars will no longer be able to. Lot T will remain open to permit parkers during construction.

The Lot B reconstruction will eliminate 30 metered parking spaces, mostly along the Boardman River. That move is in line with the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan – which calls for softening the waterfront – as well as the future riverfront plaza improvements planned for the site. Other work will include the installation of new islands with trees to comply with the city’s tree ordinance and add more tree canopy, the installation of new stormwater controls, the conversion of paid parking to pay-by-plate parking, and the elimination of the Grandview Parkway entrance.

In the future, the only way vehicles will be able to access the farmers market lot is off Cass Street. That’s why it’s crucial the North Cass Street bridge project be finished before or at the same time as the Lot B reconstruction, Derenzy said, so that Cass Street can reopen for vehicles to access Lot B. Lot B reconstruction is slated to start in April and be done by the end of June, the same time the bridge is set to be done. The farmers market will likely be relocated to the Old Town Parking Garage for the start of the season until Lot B is work done, though Derenzy said the DDA is still considering other market locations.

Derenzy acknowledged there are a “lot of moving pieces” involved in the upcoming construction, with a looming deadline of the National Cherry Festival starting on July 1. In addition to major traffic increases during that event, the festival uses Lot B for part of its carnival midway. Derenzy said city and DDA staff “really worked hard” to try and ensure that the affected downtown bridges, roads, and parking lots will all reopen in time for the “busy summer months.”

DDA board members also agreed last week to spend up to $17,000 on new pedestrian detour signs for the construction projects. The signs will have heavy concrete bases – so they won’t tip over in the wind and rain like other city sandwich board signs – and will be smaller so they take up less sidewalk space. The signs will be generic “pedestrian detour” signs with arrows routing walkers in the direction they need to go so they can be used again for future construction projects, Derenzy said.

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