Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 19, 2013

Cass Road crossing will develop with dam removals

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It’s time to stop talking and start replacing Cass Road Bridge, county officials said.

Several community leaders recently raised concerns about rebuilding Cass Road Bridge and asked whether the Grand Traverse region might be better served by an east-west connection river crossing at Hartman and Hammond roads. The Grand Traverse County Commission and the county’s Road Commission met Tuesday to discuss that question and its effect on the multi-governmental effort to remove several dams on the Boardman River.

Road commission officials appeared ready to commit to a new Cass Road crossing in conjunction with the removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams — in part because more than $3 million in state money secured for that project cannot be reallocated for other uses — even if the bridge won’t fix regional traffic congestion.

“If we don’t put in a bridge there, we are going to have a significant local negative impact,” road commission member Marc McKellar said. “We have the money. Personally I think we should move forward with this project.”

Both the Boardman Dam and the Cass Road crossing are in poor condition. County Administrator Dave Benda, a member of the dam removal implementation team, said in a previous meeting the dam removal project is living on “borrowed time.”

A firm answer on the Cass Road crossing question allows the implementation team to select an engineering firm for the next two dam removals and to pursue funding for that work. The team has secured about $1 million from various funding sources to date. Officials estimate the two removals will cost $10 million overall.

County commissioners Dick Thomas and Charlie Renny said replacing Cass Road Bridge will do little to improve traffic congestion on a regional basis or on the overcrowded South Airport Road.

Other officials saw an east-west regional traffic connector as a separate issue from Cass Road Bridge, which serves a local traffic need. Regional traffic is a problem that needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of the Cass Road crossing and the longstanding dam removal project.

“For two years or two and a half years this project has been talked about,” road commission Manager Jim Cook said. “It’s like a lot of projects, everybody knows its coming but nobody believes its real until it slaps you in the face. And we’re really at that point.”