BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — A Garfield Township official hopes to resurrect a proposed bridge over the Boardman River, an idea that last decade bitterly divided the community over environmental and land use concerns.
Chuck Korn, Garfield Township's supervisor, wants road officials to consider replacing the Cass Road bridge with a connection of Hartman and Hammond roads over the Boardman River. The dilapidated, weight-restricted Cass Road bridge sits atop the Boardman Dam that is slated for removal and will come down with the dam.
Local environmentalists call the Hartman-Hammond idea a non-starter, but Korn said a new, environmentally sensitive bridge would reduce traffic on both South Airport Road in Garfield Township and U.S. 31 through Traverse City.
"Everything about Hartman-Hammond makes sense except that everyone has bad feelings about it," Korn said. "When it's brought up in a meeting people get a wide-eyed look like: "We can't talk about this.'
"It's not so much about the site itself as the bad buzz about it from the past attempts," he said.
The Grand Traverse County Road Commission began studying the bridge in the late 1990s to improve cross-town traffic. It quickly drew stiff opposition from environmental and land use groups.
The debate raged until late 2004 when the road commission shelved the project. Bridge funds were reauthorized in 2005 to fund The Grand Vision land use and traffic study, which commenced in 2007 and took almost four years to complete.
"The Grand Vision was really started because of the division over Hammond-Hartman, and I can't even imagine ... saying we want to ignore all of that and go back and have this debate again," said Andy Knott, executive director of the Watershed Center-Grand Traverse Bay.
But Korn contends Hartman-Hammond's location is a more natural connection for most motorists and would be more effective than Cass Road as a bypass and east-west connector.
"Nobody drives up to the end of Cass Road to make a trip across town," Korn said.
John Nelson, county road commissioner and Baykeeper for the Watershed Center, called the discussion "wasted time." Traffic consultants from the Grand Vision concluded that Hartman-Hammond's estimated $20 million price tag outweighed any extra east-west mobility.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said the agency can fund up to 65 percent of the cost to replace the Cass Road bridge as part of the dam removal process. The road commission also has $3 million in state and federal critical bridge funds that must be committed by 2014.
But the funding is only for the Cass Road bridge replacement, said Mary Gillis, who manages the county road commission. There is no money identified for a Hartman-Hammond crossing.
The lack of funding doesn't dissuade Korn.
"Maybe it's a pipe dream, maybe we can't raise enough money to build a clean span, but I want to talk about it," he said.
There's no time left to re-evaluate Hartman-Hammond without risking existing funding for the Cass Road bridge, Knott said.
"Will we turn away money from the Corps of Engineers, let that money go to waste, to go after a pipe dream?" he said.