Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 8, 2013

Forum: Traffic solutions need leadership

By James Bruckbauer

Traffic problems take on new urgency during Traverse City’s busy season, as too much congestion hampers business growth, wastes fuel, and hurts this area’s rich quality of life.

But local leaders need to fix our existing transportation network first before pursuing an expensive, ill-conceived, short-term remedy like a new Hartman-Hammond bridge. The new bypass would only create more congestion south of town, bury governments deeper into debt, and do very little to ease traffic within Traverse City.

Instead, officials can alleviate traffic by improving our busiest roads; making it easier for people to get around without a car; and upgrading an existing bypass via Keystone and Beitner roads. These common-sense proposals have been on the table for years, cost far less, and carry broad public support. What’s lacking is leadership.

A Hartman-Hammond bridge would offer only short-term relief to a long-term problem. For decades, traffic engineers responded to congestion by building bypasses around towns to give motorists some relief. It didn’t work. Communities across the country found that as restaurants and stores shifted to these new roads, congestion actually worsened. Studies show that for every 10 percent increase in road capacity, a 9 percent increase in traffic followed.

That ‘build-our-way-out’ model crippled transportation budgets at every level, and state and federal governments are digging themselves out of major transportation deficits. We can’t expect Washington and Lansing to bail us out of our own mess. A new bridge project would require federal, state, and local dollars that simply aren’t there.

The Grand Traverse Road Commission, which struggles to fix its existing roads, will ask area voters for a millage this fall. If voters are expected to pay higher taxes, they’ll want their roads fixed — not a shiny new bridge. Proposing a new $30 million bypass is irresponsible.

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