Traverse City News and Events

Three Years Of Major Road Construction Ahead In Downtown TC

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 19, 2020

Six bridge repair projects, the reconstruction of Grandview Parkway, the conversion of State Street to a two-way street, and streetscape improvements to East Front Street are all on deck for downtown Traverse City in the next three years – projects that will significantly impact traffic and are requiring careful juggling timing-wise to maintain continued access into the city core. Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members discussed the road projects Friday, in addition to a proposal to purchase winter “parklets” to provide heated semi-enclosed structures for downtown diners and shoppers to use this and future seasons.

Road Construction Projects
Pandemic-related construction delays pushed back the timing of several planned city bridge repair and replacement projects this year, with some of those projects now bumping up against other road construction plans set for 2022 and 2023.

DDA and city leaders are in the process of finalizing a six-year capital improvement plan (CIP), a spreadsheet that details planned public projects and associated costs through the 2026-2027 fiscal year. Most likely to be impactful from a public perspective are six bridge projects taking place in the downtown core, with the first three – originally scheduled for construction this year – now set to begin in March.

The $617,000 rehabilitation of the Park Street bridge and $1.485 million rehabilitation of the Eighth Street bridge – the latter of which includes replacing the bridge decking, widening sidewalks, and lifting the boardwalk under the bridge – are both scheduled to take place from March to August in 2021. A $745,000 renovation project on the South Cass Street bridge – including restoring the bridge railing to its historic balustrade form, installing new MDOT crash-tested pedestrian railings along the roadway, making streetscape improvements, and upgrading parking on both sides just past the bridge – will also start this March. However, that project will take longer to complete, with construction likely lasting through October or November.

As work wraps up on the South Cass Street bridge next fall, construction will begin on the West Front Street bridge – the most expensive and labor-intensive project on the list. The deteriorating bridge will be completely replaced in a $1.792 million redesign that includes bike lanes on both sides of the bridge, on-bridge parking, pedestrian lighting, wider sidewalks, streetscape improvements, a new mid-block crossing, an extended water main, and infrastructure for future boardwalk expansion. Construction – expected to last from October 2021 to June 2022 – will require the complete closure of the West Front Street bridge over the winter. Two additional repair projects on the North Cass Street bridge ($1.343 million) and South Union Street bridge ($1.323 million) will follow in 2022-2023.

The timing of the bridge projects means the DDA will have to delay plans to renovate East Front Street between Grandview Parkway and Park Street. DDA CEO Jean Derenzy notes the eastern section of Front Street near The Little Fleet area “has not experienced significant investment in infrastructure in many years and remains one of the last remaining sections of downtown without streetscaping elements,” such as brick ribbons, decorative light poles, and crosswalks. The DDA has been working with property owners in the corridor on design plans for years and hoped to begin the project soon, but will likely now need to wait until the 2023-2024 fiscal year to complete the upgrades. “That’s not the answer I wanted but…we just can’t do East Front Street at the same time the bridges are down,” Derenzy told DDA board members Friday, citing the importance of maintaining access from at least one direction into downtown while roads are closed elsewhere.

Further complicating matters is another major road project on the horizon: the complete reconstruction of Grandview Parkway from Garfield Avenue to Division Street by the Michigan Department of Transportation in 2022-2023. The complex, multi-phase project will require an underground sewer line replacement in addition to aboveground road work; potential improvements to pedestrian crossings at Cass, Union, and Hall streets are also being looked at, including the underground tunnel near Clinch Park. “It’s a huge project,” Derenzy tells The Ticker. She told board members Friday the timing of Grandview Parkway construction “is going to be really important” when determining timing for East Front Street improvements, to avoid having the two parallel corridors closed simultaneously.

One potential solution to help with crosstown traffic while the various bridge and road construction projects are underway is converting State Street permanently to a two-way street. The DDA experimented with a two-way design this summer in conjunction with the closure of Front Street and deemed the pilot successful, according to Derenzy. She told board members she hopes to go out for design and engineering services next year ahead of a potential conversion of State Street to a two-way design in 2022-2023. The project would also tie in with planned improvements to the Boardman and Front Street intersection, Derenzy said.

Also at Friday’s DDA meeting…
> Derenzy told board members she hopes to bring a proposal for approval in January from the DDA and city commission to purchase 4-5 winter “parklets,” or semi-enclosed platforms that would be stationed in a select number of downtown parking spaces, covered on three sides (open to the sidewalk), and heated by propane with seating, tables, and lights inside. The structures, being designed in collaboration with Britten Banners, would offer a warm space for shoppers and diners to take shelter from the weather and drink a cup of coffee, eat to-go food, or hang out and relax.

The structures are estimated to cost $15,000 each and would come out of the DDA budget; a grant application to try and secure state funds for the project was not successful, Derenzy says. She told board members the parklets would not interfere with road traffic and would not be reserved for use by any specific businesses, instead open to the public for general use throughout downtown. The structures will be ADA compliant and would be available for use during this and future winter seasons. “It’s not about just this year,” she said.

> DDA board members agreed to change their meeting times in 2021 from 8am to 10am, citing difficulties that board members who are parents or late-night business owners are having with meeting at 8am, in addition to reduced public input due to the early hour. Board members said they hoped a later start would make it easier to recruit future board members, relieve the burden on staff who currently have to get up early to facilitate meetings, and encourage more residents to weigh in on DDA topics. The board will still continue to meet on the third Friday of each month, with meetings held virtually or at the Governmental Center.

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