Trail Projects Move Ahead
By Beth Milligan | Sept. 12, 2019
Traverse City officials are still targeting a 2020 completion date for the Boardman Lake Trail loop, despite running into a recent setback when construction bids came in 154-221 percent higher than engineering estimates. An effort to repackage the project and go out for bids again is one of several new trail projects underway across the region.
Officials from the Boardman Lake Trail loop leadership team – including Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, Garfield Township, and TART Trails representatives – originally hoped to break ground this fall on construction on the final segment of the Boardman Lake Trail. The first part, a one-mile paved leg that would extend the loop from Fourteenth Street to the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) campus on Cass Street, was estimated to cost $1.6 million. But when the project was put out to bid this summer, only two companies responded: Anlaan Corporation, which bid $2.5 million, and Elmer’s Crane and Dozer, which bid $3.5 million. Those bids exceeded the initial estimate by 154 and 221 percent, respectively.
Several factors likely contributed to the high bids, including the timing of seeking estimates during peak summer construction season, material costs, and a strong economy, according to Brian Beauchamp of TART Trails. “Right now there’s a lot of work behind the scenes to map out next steps in the project to continue to move it forward,” he says. “Our goal is to keep to the timeline, to complete the project in 2020.”
Beauchamp and city staff agree it’s impossible to break ground now in 2019, but say the loop completion is still feasible for next year. One possibility for securing lower bids could be combining the first leg of the project with the second leg: building a boardwalk that would extend from the NMC campus to Medalie Park, thus completing the loop. “We are looking to package all of the trail work into one bid timeline, although it will be in multiple bid packages,” confirms City Engineer Tim Lodge. The opportunity for construction firms to bid on the entire project – as well as be approached during their slower winter off-season – could produce more favorable bids, officials believe.
City Manager Marty Colburn says other options could include looking for cost savings within the construction budget: either by using different materials, modifying the project scope, or eliminating some amenities. The leadership team could also seek additional funding if bids continue to come in high, though Colburn says the timing of grant cycles and the large amount of funding already donated from public and private bodies could make that challenging. “Trying to identify where more funding would come from is pretty limited,” he says, adding: “Though it’s not that we haven’t been trying.”
The Boardman Lake Trail loop is one of several trail projects underway that TART Trails is either lending assistance to or spearheading. Executive Director Julie Clark told East Bay Township trustees this week that her organization has raised $30,000 in private funding toward a planned project to establish an official trailhead and parking along the TART Trail near the Three Mile and Parsons intersection. TART Trails is in talks with the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, which owns property near the intersection, to create a designated parking lot for trail users. The project could also include installing “artwork and vegetation” to beautify the proposed trailhead, which the trail is currently lacking, Clark said.
The trail itself, which is more than two decades old, is also targeted to be resurfaced between Three Mile and Hastings – as other nearby sections have been in recent years. “It’s in pretty rough shape,” Clark acknowledged. Clark said Road Commission officials confirmed the base has failed on the asphalt, making it difficult to repair cracks or holes in the trail. TART Trails is helping “put together a funding plan and a construction plan to actually resurface and redo that section of trail, so it would really be a new trail,” she said, calling the project a high priority for the organization.
TART Trails and the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association are also preparing to open the first mile of a planned new two-mile skill-building trail for mountain bike beginners and youth on the 40-acre VASA Pathway trailhead parcel owned by Grand Traverse County. Trail construction for the project has included clearing a six-foot-wide corridor and trail route, constructing a four-foot-wide tread, supplementing existing soils with suitable fill materials, and constructing berms, roll, and jump features that allow riders to learn mountain biking skills over progressively trickier terrain.
“We’re excited about the progress that’s been made, thanks not only to volunteers but a hired contractor who helped with some of the ground work,” says Beauchamp. He says the first section of the loop will open in mid-October, with the second mile of track likely completed in the spring.
Finally, TART Trails is supporting a proposal from the Traverse City Track Club to install a new single-track dirt path for running and biking at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. The two groups were invited to consult on possible options for Civic Center trails as county Parks and Recreation commissioners work to create a new master plan for the park. The park’s paved running track, which encircles the Civic Center and is nearly 20 years old, is “aging and outdated” and will need to be replaced soon – a project that could be included in the master plan, according to Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Erickson. But in the meantime, “maybe we could enhance someone’s walking or running experience by having a foot trail at the park," she says.
The trail, which could run parallel to the paved path except for certain sections where it might curve more inward, would not require any significant investment or maintenance costs by the county. Instead, volunteers would flag and create the path by “cutting the grass really tight and having people wear down” a dirt trail through frequent use, according to Traverse City Track Club Executive Director Lisa Taylor. An urban single-track dirt path would likely see high usage from runners because it’s “so much more forgiving on the body versus concrete,” Taylor explains. Traverse City Track Club will seek approval from the Parks and Recreation Commission tonight (Thursday) to create and test the path this fall.
Pictured: Boardman Lake Trail