Traverse City News and Events

$100M Hartman-Hammond Bridge Moves To Next Phase

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 2, 2022

Construction on a proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge could begin within the next several years after the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) board voted to accept a report recommending it as the preferred route for a new Boardman River crossing. A conceptual design for the estimated 2,000-foot-long bridge – likely to cost upwards of $100 million – would make it the third largest bridge in Michigan and potentially the largest bridge owned by a county agency in the U.S.

The next step in the process is a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, typically a 12-15 month phase after which the commission could begin property acquisition and engineering ahead of construction. Bill Zipp of consulting group OHM Advisors told GTCRC board members last week that the review would involve more closely analyzing project details, such as the exact location on US-31 where the crossing would land – a challenging detail due to US-31’s grade – as well as different material and design options for the bridge. GTCRC is legally required to consider a “no build” option along with the Hartman-Hammond option in the NEPA review, so both scenarios will be explored. If the NEPA process produces a finding of “no significant impact” for the Hartman-Hammond bridge, GTCRC would have the green light to begin buying property and move into detailed design and engineering. Design could be a two-year process, and construction could also be a two-year process, putting a bridge at least six years out.

“The biggest thing is do we have people who resist on property acquisition,” said GTCRC Manager Brad Kluczynski. “Because that can add a lot of time. So if we have clean property acquisitions, I would assume six years.” Funding will also be a major component: GTCRC is anticipating significant federal support for the project, in additional to state and local dollars, but will need those funds to actually materialize to stay on the projected timeline. Road Commissioner Carl Brown rejected concerns that a new crossing would create another congested corridor like South Airport Road. “There are not too many curb cuts on that bridge,” he said wryly, implying traffic would flow continuously due to the lack of businesses like those that populate South Airport Road.

Zipp presented a final report to GTCRC board members last week on a planning and environmental linkages (PEL) study, a federally mandated process when making transportation decisions like building new highways and bridges. The PEL aimed to identify a new possible crossing over the Boardman River and analyze the impacts of the route, ranging from cost of construction to land acquisition requirements to environmental, social, and economic effects. Zipp pointed out that there are currently “relatively limited crossings of the Boardman River” – such as Grandview Parkway, Front Street, Eighth Street, and South Airport Road – and that “many of these are tough to cross. They’re small city streets, low capacity.”

For decades, GTCRC has “has studied and wanted to build another crossing of the Boardman River,” Zipp said. A 2001 environmental impact statement recommended Hartman-Hammond as the preferred route for a new crossing, but “for a lot of reasons it didn’t go through,” Zipp said. He emphasized some of the differences of that 2001 study and the new 2022 report, with the former failing because it “didn’t do enough environmental analysis on impacts” and lacked stakeholder engagement, Zipp said. The previous report also called for a low bridge just a few hundred feet long that would be built just above the water. “The embankment impacts to the wetlands were significant,” he said of the 2001 report, saying the bridge design was “one of the reasons it failed.”

By contrast, the 2022 PEL report considers a “high bridge alternative” with a span of approximately 2,000 feet. Maximizing the span length will minimize the number of piers that are placed into the river, Zipp said. At an estimated 100 feet wide, the bridge would also accommodate separated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, another aspect that was lacking in earlier design concepts, according to Zipp.

OHM Advisors considered two other crossing locations – using Cass Road and the former Sabin Dam – but eliminated them as options due to being more environmentally harmful, requiring more residential displacements, and offering fewer traffic relief benefits than Hartman-Hammond. OHM Advisors said Hartman-Hammond would be the most effective at alleviating crosstown traffic congestion, reducing traffic by 37 percent on South Airport Road by 2045 compared to a no-build scenario.

Road commissioners expressed enthusiasm for the project, with Chair Jason Gillman saying the crossing would be a “signature bridge” in the state. Kluczynski said he intends to bring a cost estimate to the GTCRC board at their next meeting for hiring OHM Advisors to guide them through the NEPA review process. He said he'd also seek a letter of support from the Grand Traverse County board of commissioners for the project, saying momentum was important to keep the process moving forward. Gillman agreed, saying GTCRC doesn’t want to see the project stall again as it has in the past.

“We want to keep moving to the best of our ability,” he said. “It’s taken us 50 years to get here.”

Pictured: Rendering of Hartman-Hammond crossing by OHM Advisors

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