Traverse City News and Events

Road Commission Approves Roundabout Construction at Potter/Garfield/Hoch; Work to Start in Spring

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 27, 2023

An intersection that has been the site of numerous accidents – including a crash in October that killed a Traverse City man and hospitalized three others – is set to be reconstructed. The Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) approved a $1.356 million cost-sharing agreement with the state to build a new roundabout at the intersection of Garfield, Potter, and Hoch roads, with construction to begin next spring.

GTCRC will pay $756,000 of the project cost, with federal High Risk Rural Road funds to cover the remaining $600,000. The construction contract has been awarded to Team Elmer’s, which was the lowest of three bidders on the project. Work will include .34 miles of single-lane roundabout construction, including earthwork, aggregate base and shoulder, drainage, hot mix asphalt, concrete curb and gutter, shoulder gutter, spillway, decorative concrete, guardrail, landscaping, lighting, and permanent signing, including reflective sheeting on signposts. Permanent, recessed pavement markings will also be part of the project.

GTCRC can’t start work any earlier than March 11 because of the presence of Indiana and long-eared bats. Those bats are federally protected and may roost in local trees at certain times of year. Because the roundabout project is using federal funds, GTCRC can’t begin any tree removal or clearing work while the bats might be present, GTCRC County Highway Engineer/Manager of Engineering Wayne Schoonover told road commissioners. That will put the project on track for an early spring start date – after March 11 – with the intersection to be completed by the Fourth of July.

A detour route will be in place during construction using Three Mile Road from Garfield Road to Hammond Road, and Hammond Road from Three Mile Road to Garfield Road. Road commissioners asked staff to make sure East Bay Township officials and residents had a heads up prior to construction beginning due to the disruptive nature of the detour. The roundabout construction will take place at the same time as the Grandview Parkway reconstruction, which GTCRC Vice Chair Haider Kazim noted will put “a lot of traffic on Three Mile” from detours for the two projects.

Despite any temporary traffic headaches from construction, road commissioners – and the public – have long agreed Garfield/Potter/Hoch needs to be addressed. Schoonover previously said GTCRC has been working for at least a decade to improve safety at the dangerous intersection. In 2012, GTCRC received a state safety grant to install flashing beacon stop signs and “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop” warning signs at the site. GTCRC also completed grading projects to improve sight distance “for vehicles stopping on Potter/Hoch Rd and traveling on north and southbound Garfield Road,” Schoonover said.

But while the improvements “increased driver awareness and visibility,” according to Schoonover, “the results of these improvements do not appear to have decreased the accident rate of the intersection to an acceptable level. As noted in many crash reports, drivers stopping on eastbound Potter Road are reporting not seeing the approaching vehicles on Garfield Road.” Angle crashes have repeatedly occurred at the site – the majority in clear and dry conditions – with drivers often ignoring the traffic control devices. In 2019, a road safety audit concluded that installing a roundabout at the intersection would yield a “measurable reduction in future crashes.”

GTCRC board members voted in August 2022 to hire OHM Advisors for a $169,895 contract to design the new roundabout at Garfield/Potter/Hoch. Last week, in addition to approving the cost-sharing agreement, the board approved another $235,000 contract with OHM Advisors for engineering and management services for the project. While the roundabout will consist of a single lane, staff said it could be possible in the future to expand it if needed. Road Commissioner Jason Gillman said he thought a single lane will likely be “sufficient for a long time” at the site.

Even as GTCRC has worked toward a new design, the danger of the existing intersection has been tragically spotlighted with continued accidents at the site. In October, 46-year-old Donald Clewly – the founder and CEO of Traverse-City based Eolus Facility Group – was killed in a two-car collision at the intersection. The accident also hospitalized a 35-year-old woman, who was driving the other car, and two children ages 6 and 10.

“It’s just a nasty intersection,” said Gillman. “(The roundabout) will change the traffic out there tremendously.” While Schoonover previously acknowledged roundabouts are “not cheap,” he also said “they do save lives. And that is a very dangerous intersection there.” At an earlier meeting, Chair Joe Underwood said that while local resistance was higher to roundabouts several years ago before they started becoming more commonplace across the region, he’s heard strong support from nearby residents for the Garfield/Potter/Hoch project.

“They want the roundabout built,” he said.

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