Traverse City News and Events

Road Commission Talks Options For Bluff Road's Future

By Craig Manning | March 4, 2022

$2.5 million: That’s how much it could cost to resolve erosion issues that have left a section of Bluff Road closed since November 2019. The figure comes from a GEI Consultants report that the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) board discussed at length during a special meeting on Wednesday morning. GTCRC has been working with GEI to assess the structural integrity of Bluff Road and to identify potential solutions. The meeting resulted in the formation of a volunteer advisory committee – comprised of GTCRC members, Peninsula Township officials, Bluff Road property owners, and the county drain commissioner – which will work together on exploring next steps.

The GEI report lays out three options that could be pursued to address the erosion on Bluff Road. Option 1 would involve stabilizing the bluff on the water side to stave off future erosion and make the roadway safe to reopen. Option 2 would reroute Bluff Road traffic one of several alternate routes. Option 3 is a “do nothing approach” that would entail permanently closing and removing the most affected part of the road. Each option is explored in greater detail below.

Option 1
Stabilization is the only path GEI considered that would allow the long-shuttered section of Bluff Road to reopen to through-traffic. In that scenario, GTCRC would use armor stone and other materials to stabilize “approximately 1,500 lineal feet of roadway immediately adjacent to the lake.” GEI estimated a total cost of construction “on the order of $2.0 to $2.5 million.”

Option 2
Here, GEI evaluated four potential alternate routes for the relocation of Bluff Road (pictured). All four involve Mallard Road, a street that connects to Bluff Road at a T-intersection south of the road closure and then runs parallel to Bluff for approximately half a mile before dead-ending in a cul-de-sac.

Two potential routes would extend Mallard further north, tying it back in with Bluff Road north of the erosion area. A third option would build a brand-new east-west road connecting Mallard Drive to Center Road, with T-intersections on both ends. The fourth and final route would build a similar east-west road linking Mallard to Smokey Hollow Road.

Depending on the preferred option, GEI estimated that relocating Bluff Road would require construction of between 1,700 and 2,650 feet of new roadway and would demand the acquisition of 59,550 to 130,200 square feet of privately held land. Price estimates for these relocation strategies range from $650,000 to $1.2 million, though GTCRC commissioners noted that those estimates don’t take into account the cost of land acquisitions.

Option 3
GEI’s “do nothing” approach would still require shoreline repair and would involve permanently closing Bluff Road in the most affected area. GTCRC would build cul-de-sacs at the north and south termination points of the road, remove the compromised roadway, and build a boardwalk “between the two cul-de-sacs to allow for pedestrian traffic.” GEI noted that the boardwalk “could be designed to allow for small vehicular traffic such as a golf cart.” The cul-de-sacs and other construction would still require GTCRC to obtain 5,800 square feet of private land, but the overall cost of this option – GEI estimated $500,000 – would likely remain the least expensive path forward.

While assessing the options at Wednesday’s GTCRC meeting, road commissioners agreed that Options 1 and 3 were the most worthy of consideration. GTCRC Chair Jason Gillman noted that, since GEI’s projections for Option 2 didn’t include property acquisition costs, those strategies only had the illusion of being cheaper than a full-on stabilization of the road.

“Honestly, we should just take Option 2 right off the table,” Gillman said. “Relocating the road just isn’t going to work. If you look at the cost of Option 1, which is the stabilization, [that] cost would be exceeded by moving the road. I think we’re looking at the cul-de-sacs, or repairing the road.”

Kevin Endres, who recently joined the GTCRC board, leaned toward Option 3, pointing out that no houses have driveways on the affected stretch of Bluff Road.

“Why wouldn’t we just build a cul-de-sac on each end?” Endres asked. “The people on the north end, it’s not much further – an extra mile or two of driving – to get back to Center [Road]. And the people from the [Mallard Drive] subdivision just go south [on Bluff] anyway… When I saw [the options for] extending the roads, I just don't see how that solves anything except just spending a bunch of money. I don't know how it improves accessibility or traffic flow or anything like that.”

During public comment, numerous residents who own property near the closed portion of Bluff Road answered Endres’ question by explaining the impacts they’ve seen over the past two-plus years of road closure. Those impacts include reduced waterfront access; difficulty with deliveries, garbage collection, school busing, and other large vehicles; and longer response times for emergency services called to properties north of the closure.

Commenters also expressed frustration with GEI’s report, which cost GTCRC $37,000 but had several notable shortcomings. Some complained that the report didn’t include more nuanced cost breakdowns for the stabilization option. Others, including Peninsula Township Supervisor Rob Manigold, pointed out that several of GEI’s options for relocating Bluff Road weren’t feasible because they passed through conservation easements, drainage infrastructure, or even homes.

“The maps are old; it doesn’t have the house on there,” Manigold said of GEI’s plans for new roads. He suggested that a committee approach might help foster better knowledge and resource sharing going forward, thereby helping avoid these types of mistakes. “I think if we all work together…we can put to rest a lot of these options that probably aren’t going to be feasible.”

Wednesday’s meeting ultimately ended with a decision to form a volunteer advisory committee, which will bring together Manigold and Peninsula Township Zoning Administrator Christina Doreen; Endres and fellow GTCRC board member Alan Leman; Grand Traverse County Drain Commissioner Andy Smits; and several community stakeholders with properties on or near Bluff Road. This group will collaborate on exploring options, assessing feasibility, and brainstorming next steps. One of those next steps, mentioned by Manigold, might be pursuing grant funding to help cover the cost of a road stabilization effort.

Smits – who was present at the meeting – told attendees that there is $25,000 of funding “in the county’s general drain revolving fund…that could be tapped to initiate activities that you've discussed, which is furthering the preliminary feasibility analysis, furthering refinement of engineers’ estimates of probable cost, and narrowing down feasible options.” Smits said Peninsula Township would need to formally petition the drain commission to access the funding.

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