Traverse City News and Events

Study Continues For Possible Road Crossing Over Boardman River

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 19, 2020

Work is progressing on a study to identify a possible bridge/road crossing location over the Boardman River connecting Keystone Road to US-31 – including mapping out the environmental landscape and location of sensitive species and launching a public engagement process, with the goal of having a recommended concept within a year.

Members of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) and consultant group OHM Advisors led a Zoom meeting Wednesday giving a project update to local stakeholders on the long-discussed bypass in the Boardman River valley area. GTCRC is going through a planning and environmental linkages (PEL) study, a federally mandated process when making transportation decisions – like building new roads – that includes analyzing environmental impacts. Bill Zipp of OHM said the goal was to first determine conclusively if there is a need for a bypass or improved corridor through the Boardman River area. Then, “if there is a need for such a crossing, the intent is to identify where it can go,” Zipp said.

The PEL is analyzing a project area roughly defined by South Airport Road to the north, US-31 to the west, Beitner Road to the south, and Keystone Road to the east. “If there was a crossing…it would likely be in this area,” said Stuart Kogge, a senior wetland/aquatic biologist with GEI Consultants, which is assisting with the environmental assessment. Kogge said the firm has mapped out the area with roughly 90 percent accuracy and has a “really good handle” on wetlands, streams, and other natural resources present in the corridor.

Staff will continue to update the map, Kogge said, including marking sites like trails and parks as well as contaminated sites. State and federal environmental agencies have also been engaged and flagged several areas containing fens – a unique type of wetland – that any crossing would need to avoid. A species survey is also planned; in addition to the threatened northern long-eared bat and Indiana bat, staff will attempt to confirm if any eastern massausauga rattlesnakes are present in the area.

Todd Davis of WSP, another consulting firm involved in the project, said the study was trying to solve “one of the hardest problems” involved in building a possible bridge: “where it is going to cross the Boardman, because the Boardman is such a high-quality resource.” Acknowledging past concerns from residents about the environmental impacts of such a crossing – along with worries about cost, placement, and implications for surrounding land use – Davis said the PEL was “really giving due diligence to the ecological constraints (of the area)…it’s something we have to navigate.”

Wayne Schoonover of GTCRC also noted it was possible that the recommendation at the end of the PEL would be to not build anything at all. “Until we get through here reviewing this, there has been nothing set in stone,” he said, addressing Zoom chat comments from some participants who said they believed a bridge was already a foregone conclusion. Matt McCauley of Networks Northwest noted that Grand Traverse County is one of the state’s fastest-growing areas, with growth predominantly concentrated in the southeast and southwest sides of town. While finding solutions to improve east-west mobility “has been hotly debated for many years,” according to McCauley, he said the PEL was a “fact-based and inclusive process” that was important to undergo because the region’s prosperity depends on finding a balance between “development and the environment.”

The PEL will include an extensive public engagement process similar to the East-West Corridor Study, which showed support among many residents for a crossing and prompted GTCRC to move ahead with the current bridge study. Consultants said public engagement would include a new PEL website on the GTCRC home page – planned to be launched in the near future – in addition to public meetings, focus groups, stakeholder gatherings, and regular media updates. The goal is to have a recommended concept by November 2021, which – if a crossing is indeed proposed – would include a proposed location and estimated costs. Staff have noted construction of a bridge would likely be at least a decade away, with several years of engineering, design, and fundraising preceding any kind of build.

In the meantime, Schoonover said GTCRC is also pursuing several short-term recommendations for improving traffic that came out of the East-West Corridor Study. Those include optimizing the 26 traffic signals under GTCRC control, recently adding dual left turn lanes at the Hammond/Keystone intersection, and working to complete the design process for a planned roundabout at Hammond and Four Mile. Additional roundabouts are planned for 2022 at Cass/Keystone and at Keystone/River/Beitner. From there, Schoonover said GTCRC would be analyzing the intersections of Garfield/Hammond and Hammond/Three Mile to determine if signals or roundabouts would best improve those intersections, as well as looking long-term at widening or redesigning parts of South Airport, Hammond, and Keystone.

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