Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 18, 2013

Officials to meet on Cass, Hartman-Hammond river crossings

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Cass Road Bridge will be replaced after all.

A debate simmered for months about possible alternatives to the Cass Road river crossing, but Grand Traverse County officials said Monday they are moving forward with replacing the Cass Road Bridge in part because they don’t want to lose millions of state dollars.

The local road bridge funding that was approved for Cass Road Bridge must be used for that bridge,” Grand Traverse County Road Commission Manager Jim Cook said.

County commissioners will hold a joint meeting with the road commission tonight to discuss an overall strategy for the bridge and related infrastructure projects, including removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams, replacement of the Cass Road river crossing that sits atop the Boardman Dam, and possibly building a Hartman and Hammond roads connection.

Some said they wanted to delay demolition of the Boardman Dam to buy time for consideration of a Hartman-Hammond connector. The road commission learned, though that $3 million-plus in Michigan Department of Transportation funding earmarked for the Cass Road Bridge replacement could not be reallocated for other projects.

Cook said the road commission supports replacing the Cass Road Bridge, but officials are looking at additional possible river crossings, including at Hartman and Hammond roads. Another crossing would serve as a regional connector to help alleviate traffic on South Airport Road, which is currently more than 20 percent over its traffic capacity.

The road commission began studying a Hartman-Hammond bridge in the late 1990s to improve cross-town traffic and spur development.

A contentious debate on the matter 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. A report from the study recommended the Hartman-Hammond connection be revisited at a future date.

Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn thinks the Grand Traverse region is best served by one east-west connector that’s not located on Cass Road. Korn said all options for a connector weren’t fully examined, and that the decision making process was “short-circuited.”

The process should involve Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study leaders weighing all the pros and cons of suggested projects, Korn said.

TC-TALUS is analyzing new traffic demand model data from MDOT. Korn, a representative on the TALUS board, said raw data suggested a new Cass Road crossing does little to improve the region’s traffic problems.

“I’m feeling like I’m getting a rush job,” Korn said. “Let’s let the actual transportation planners do their jobs.”

But road commission board member John Nelson said traffic will be affected if the current Cass Road crossing fails. The Federal Highway Administration gave the bridge a 4 percent rating out of a possible 100 percent in recent assessments.

“It’s condemnable,” said Nelson, also a TALUS board member. “We could have lost it yesterday.”

Grand Traverse County Commission Chairman Herb Lemcool joined Korn in pushing for a Hartman-Hammond connection. Lemcool said he’s seen strong public support for a connection there, and he plans to ask MDOT officials to allocate additional state road money for that project.

Cook estimated the cost of a four-lane Hartman-Hammond connection would start somewhere between $12 and $20 million.

A replaced Cass Road Bridge will sit about 500 feet west of the bridge’s current location due to restoration of the Boardman River’s natural path in conjunction with the dam removal project.

Plans call for the new bridge to be completed prior to the Boardman Dam removal to minimize traffic disruption.

Tonight’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Governmental Center.