Traverse City News and Events

Traffic Projects, $2.45 Million Kids Creek Crossings, TCLP Program Top City Commission Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 18, 2021

Traverse City commissioners will tackle a busy agenda this week that includes two traffic projects (the four-way stop at Madison and West Front and a planned roundabout at Airport Access and Parsons roads), a $2.45 million Kids Creek restoration project that includes replacing three culverts on Cedar and Sixth streets, and proposals to reduce leases for restaurants on city-owned property and give final approval to Traverse City Light & Power to start a new energy efficiency program for customers. The commission will meet virtually at 7pm on Tuesday instead of Monday due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Traffic Projects
City staff will give a promised update this week on traffic data collected at the West Front and Madison intersection, where a controversial four-way stop was introduced in 2019 to replace the former two-way stop. The four-way stop is recommended to remain at the intersection permanently, unless city commissioners decide otherwise.

According to data collected at the site, the four-way stop has caused drivers to slow down on West Front, reducing the average speed from 28mph to 26mph and the 85th percentile speed (the speed at or below which 85 percent of motorists typically drive on a given road) from 33mph to 27mph. The change has also reduced traffic counts on some streets – including Madison south of Front and Elmwood north of Front – and significantly reduced vehicle speeds on Madison south of Front. Pedestrian usage of the intersection has also increased, particularly in afternoon/evening hours. However, the change has increased traffic on other side streets – Jefferson Street saw an 84 percent increase in cars east of Madison – and also caused a spike in rear-end accidents.

According to staff, the city has “received positive feedback with regard to both speed reduction along West Front Street and an increase in maneuverability through the intersection for both motorized and non-motorized users.” Concerns, meanwhile, “have primarily focused on stop sign compliance and traffic delays.” The department explored additional options to improve the site, including installing a traffic signal, roundabout, and stop signs bordered with LED lights. However, each of those options has been ruled out; the cost of a signalized intersection outweighs the benefits, a roundabout would be useful but would require obtaining surrounding property (including homes, dislocating residents), and LED lights would cause light pollution likely to affect nearby residences. Staff are recommending leaving the intersection as it is now, with no action to be taken at Tuesday’s meeting unless city commissioners intervene and order the intersection changed.

Commissioners this week will also be asked to approve a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for construction this spring of a new roundabout at Airport Access and Parsons roads. The nearly $700,000 project will replace the traffic signal at the intersection with a one-lane roundabout (pictured) and include improvements for pedestrian and cyclist safety, including sidewalk ramps meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines and pedestrian-scale lighting. The roundabout is also expected to slow traffic through the corridor, as well as reduce the number of heavy trucks idling at the traffic light.

Team Elmer’s has the winning construction bid for the project, with costs to be split between MDOT ($557,294) and the city ($142,000). The project will be the city’s first official roundabout, not including the small traffic circles located in Boardman Neighborhood. Construction work is scheduled to start after April 15, with the intersection reopened to traffic by June 25.

Kids Creek Restoration Project
A series of projects implemented since 2013 to restore the Kids Creek watershed will culminate in a planned $2.45 million partnership this year between the city and The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay to add two new road crossings at Cedar Street and one on Sixth Street, replacing existing culverts that are significantly undersized and rapidly filling with sediment.

City commissioners will approve accepting nearly $1.5 million in grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and ponying up nearly $950,000 in city water, sewer, and street reconstruction funds for the project, which will also include replacing sanitary sewer and watermains in the area. According to City Engineer Tim Lodge, “the sewer is a known problem area with sags in the gravity flow line” and is impacted by groundwater infiltration and flooding, while the watermains are undersized by modern standards. Team Elmer’s submitted the lowest construction bid for the project and is recommended to be awarded the contract. 

Lodge calls the crossing improvements a “pivotal point” in the years-long watershed restoration effort at Kids Creek, which is the only city waterway classified as impaired and has historically been severely impacted by development and stormwater runoff.

Restaurant Leases
Commissioners will consider approving a 40 percent reduction in lease payments Tuesday for three restaurants using city property for outdoor dining. The measure would cut costs based on square footage used in 2021 for the The Workshop Brewing Company (from $920 to $552), J&S Hamburg (from $612 to $367.20), and Sparks BBQ  (from $1,225 to $735). City Clerk Benjamin Marentette noted in a memo to commissioners that 40 percent reductions have previously been approved for several other businesses operating on city property to help them through the pandemic – such as Brew, Great Lakes Bath & Body Works, Scalawags, Votruba, and Traverse City Whiskey Company – and recommended applying the same consistent standards to Workshop, J&S, and Sparks BBQ.

TCLP Program
Finally, commissioners will vote to give the final green light this week to a new on-bill financing program planned to be rolled out by Traverse City Light & Power (TCP). The program – made possible by a first-in the-nation $1.8 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – will allow TCLP customers to finance their own energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements, such as more efficient furnaces or air conditioners. Customers can pay back the loans to make those improvements over time on their utility bills. The city commission vote makes it clear the repayment of the USDA loan and all related costs for the program will come solely from TCLP. According to TCLP Executive Director Tim Arends, the program will “provide many benefits for TCLP ratepayers, including a mechanism to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements that will reduce customer’s energy expense at peak times, improve value to properties, and create jobs.”

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