Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 15, 2011

Newsmakers: Boardman decision looms

By Bill O'Brien

TRAVERSE CITY — Old Town resident Mark Crane and plenty of his neighbors waited more than a decade for the city to move ahead with plans for a road on the west side of Boardman Lake.

The project is still at a stage of conceptual drawings, traffic counts and grant applications, but city commissioners made significant progress on the long-discussed road in 2011. Officials said it's possible they could move the estimated $4.5 million project off the drawing board by mid-2012.

"I would expect some final decisions by mid-year," city Manager Ben Bifoss said this week.

It won't come soon enough for Crane and other Old Town residents who for years sought relief from heavy traffic along north-south streets such as Union and Cass that dissect the neighborhood. Crane said residential surveys conducted by the Old Town Neighborhood Association in 1998 and again last spring show unwavering support for the new route.

"The level of support for building Boardman Lake Avenue has been in the 90th percentile over those 12 years," Crane said.

Union Street resident Barb Rishel said the Old Town neighborhood is "at risk" because of heavy traffic.

"We want a neighborhood where we feel safe," Rishel said. "We want a neighborhood like all the other neighborhoods."

But not everyone wants the city to travel that path. City resident Gary Howe contends the route would draw more traffic into the neighborhood than exists now. Others said the road's estimated $4.5 million cost, including accompanying trail and needed relocation of a railroad wye along Boardman Lake is a steep price for an avenue that would handle less than 6,000 vehicles per day.

Traffic data presented to the commission this week showed there's significant potential for the new road to divert traffic from Old Town streets. Consultant Michael DeVries, of URS Corp. in Grand Rapids, said a fall study showed the route could reduce daily traffic counts on Union and Cass streets by more than 30 percent between Eighth and 14th streets. Traffic numbers along Eighth Street between Cass Street and the new road would be cut by 35 percent.

"It's a pretty good amount of traffic that would be diverted to Boardman Lake Avenue," DeVries said.

Other factors also pushed along the project this year. The Michigan Economic Growth Authority board approved more than $10 million in brownfield money for the project in tax revenue from future development along the route.

"We've got a dedicated source of funding," Bifoss said. "The revenue stream is fairly good."

But other questions need answers. The city hasn't decided where and how the road would link to Eighth Street at the project's north end. Some aren't convinced the new route won't create traffic snarls in other neighborhoods.

"Are we going to create another bottleneck at another location?" Commissioner Jim Carruthers asked.

Others said it's been kicked around long enough and want to push ahead.

"It just seems like there's always another reason to put this off," Commissioner Mary Ann Moore said. "I think it's time to move this forward."

Commissioner Mike Gillman agreed.

"The traffic is there; we need to accommodate it," he said. "I'll vote for Boardman Lake Avenue if and when it's ever voted on."