Traverse City News and Events

Road Commission Considers Intersection Upgrades Along Keystone, Hammond Roads

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 23, 2019

Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) leaders are considering several intersection upgrades along Keystone and Hammond roads, including installing three roundabouts – part of a list of projects that could emerge from the recently completed East-West Corridor Transportation Study.

GTCRC staff presented road commissioners this week with recommendations for short-term or “phase one” projects that could be completed in the next one to five years to improve the county’s transportation grid. Staff recommended focusing first on the Keystone/Beitner and Hammond corridors, which face fewer cost and planning barriers than South Airport Road, another studied project area. “The challenge was for staff…to bring several low-hanging fruit (projects) forward to begin our process here,” GTCRC County Highway Engineer/Manager of Engineering Wayne Schoonover told commissioners.

Topping the list as a “cost effective” and relatively easy project to start, according to staff, is reconfiguring the Hammond/Keystone intersection (pictured) to provide duel left-turn lanes southbound onto Keystone from Hammond. That project could be completed as early as next spring, requiring only the cost of restriping the intersection and purchasing a new signal head. “It would take the dedicated right-turn-only lane and make that into both a left and a right,” explained Schoonover. “This would allow us to get additional stacking down through (the intersection) that now kind of backs up and gets real close to LaFranier.”

The change would push more traffic through at the light, with the two turn lanes eventually merging into one on Keystone – similar to South Airport Road just past the US-31 intersection next to Best Buy. Schoonover added that the Birmley/Keystone signal could simultaneously be optimized to allow more southbound traffic through at that intersection. Combined with a 5-10 year goal of eventually widening Keystone to four lanes, the idea is to tackle bottlenecks on Keystone and smooth the traffic out to create a more even spread of vehicles. “You’ve got to start somewhere to open that funnel up,” said Schoonover. “So here we’re opening up the funnel where it starts (at Hammond/Keystone)…then proceed on down through the corridor, opening up that funnel more and more with future projects.”

Along with the Hammond/Keystone upgrade, staff are recommending installing three roundabouts along the two corridors. The targeted intersection locations include Keystone and River roads, Hammond and Four Mile roads, and Keystone and Cass roads, in order of priority. “We think that probably the quickest, easiest one to go after is going to be the Beitner/Keystone and River intersection,” said Schoonover. No residential homes are located in the expansion zone needed for the roundabout, making it easier to pursue right-of-way acquisitions, he said. A roundabout at Hammond and Four Mile would also have relatively insignificant impacts to neighboring properties, including a church and farmers market, according to staff.

Keystone and Cass, however, will likely be the most challenging of the three intersections to complete. Encroachment is highly restricted onto a nearby Consumers Energy parcel, and one or more property acquisitions would be needed to construct the roundabout. But tackling the project could solve another major traffic challenge on Keystone, staff said. A new main entrance into the Keystone Soccer Fields could be created coming off the roundabout into the sports complex, with the existing south entrance then gated off and used only for emergency access. The roundabout would allow for a continuous flow of traffic in and out of the soccer fields, which currently generate significant traffic jams on Keystone during tournaments. “That’s a perfect reason and example of where a roundabout comes in handy, is when you’ve got large influxes of traffic at different times,” said Schoonover.

While not a “phase one” project, staff and commissioners also expressed interest in the future in solving traffic and pedestrian congestion at the two parking lots near River Road where Keystone crosses the Boardman River. Tubers and kayakers park on either side of Keystone in two small parking lots and frequently dart back and forth between them across the busy road, a situation one commissioner called a “death trap.” Schoonver says finding a traffic solution for that area could be a “phase two” project in the next 5-10 years.

Timing of construction on the three roundabouts is dependent on funding and property acquisitions, Schoonover tells The Ticker, though design and other preliminary work could start within the next year. “The funding is the bigger picture,” he says. “I could see the board looking at doing maybe one of these a year…we have to figure out if we can try to utilize state and federal funds, or if we’re going to be paying for it out of Act 51 (revenue distributed for road and bridge projects).”

Tackling short-term projects like intersection upgrades while also planning for longer-term solutions – such as a long-discussed Hartmand-Hammond bypass – is a recommended approach by consultants OHM Advisors, the group that led the East-West Corridor Transportation Study. The recently completed study solicited public input and provided a range of solutions to alleviate east-west traffic across Traverse City, particularly in key corridors like Keystone, Hammond, and South Airport. OHM Advisors was recently hired through a separate bid process to complete a signal optimization project for the GTCRC, analyzing signals throughout Traverse City starting this fall and providing recommendations on how to improve them – including along South Airport Road. While roundabouts and other intersection upgrades were also recommended for South Airport, Schoonover says staff want to see how signal changes work first before “we start to muck it up with anything else.”

In addition to near-term intersection upgrades and the signal optimization project, GTCRC also plans over the next year to work with local townships on better access management. As more and more commercial projects and residential developments come online throughout Grand Traverse County, Schoonover hopes to encourage township and road commission officials to work together on creating smart guidelines for parking, traffic, driveways, and other aspects of access management. “How do we go about accessing public roads (from private property)? How many driveways is a parcel allowed to have? What are the setbacks from intersections?” he said. “We have our standards; the townships have their standards. We need to have a bigger conversation with our township partners so we can be consistent in our planning processes.”

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