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Motorists travel on U.S. 31 in Traverse City on Friday.

TRAVERSE CITY — The entrance to downtown Traverse City from the east and a major state thoroughfare will change dramatically in the next two years.

With the Michigan Department of Transportation $22 million reconstruction of Grandview Parkway from Garfield Avenue to Division Street scheduled for 2023, the Downtown Development Authority is using it as an opportunity to reimagine the entrance to downtown on East Front Street, which hopes to begin work in the spring of 2022.

Personnel from Progressive AE of Grand Rapids, which is heading the Reimagine East Front Street project, and MDOT officials each made special presentations to the DDA board at its monthly meeting Friday morning to discuss the two street reconstruction projects, how it all connects together and the impact it will have on downtown for decades.

“It’s a very collaborative effort to get to the best design for the community, not just today but 30 years from now,” DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said in previewing the two presentations.

Progressive AE Transportation Project Leader Chris Zull and Municipal Practice Leader Tim Bradshaw’s presentation to the DDA board came a day after a series of meetings at the Park Place Hotel and before a pair of community workshops at the Governmental Center later in the day.

Zull said the preferred East Front Street project design gathered from feedback at September engagement sessions has “pedestrians as the highest priority.” The final streetscape design being developed calls for wider sidewalks and raised, mid-block pedestrian crossings which also serve to slow vehicles on Front Street.

Zull said the mid-block crossings still provide vehicle access, “but on our terms.”

Zull said Progressive AE will soon complete final engineering plans for the project and is working toward bidding the project in January 2022 with construction to begin in the spring. A final downtown circulation study is also wrapping up and Zull said another alternate traffic circulation pilot during the winter may also be added.

Bradshaw said current estimates for the project, which would feature gateway obelisks and possibly a seasonal park near the corner of Grandview Parkway and East Front Street, are $4.8 million, which would include $1 million for a sidewalk snowmelt system and a 20 percent contingency.

Zull later highlighted some of the traffic circulation study models, which looked at keeping the current system of one- and two-way streets, changing the current configuration completely or some combination. Zull said Traverse City changed a portion of Front Street to one-way traffic in the spring of 1967 as a “more efficient way to move traffic,” but that a lot of cities have reversed those practices.

Just as there was an opposition to changing Front Street to one-way in the ‘60s, Zull said “keeping it the same is politically easy.”

Derenzy said she will meet with City Manager Marty Colburn Monday to look at financing the East Front Street project.

In addition to discussions with Progressive AE, Derenzy said the DDA and the city have been meeting with MDOT about the Grandview Parkway reconstruction. MDOT officials followed Zull and Bradshaw to the podium at Friday’s DDA meeting.

Laura Aylsworth, vice president and branch manager at AECOM in Traverse City, said the “once in a lifetime project” is a total reconstruction of Grandview Parkway from Garfield Avenue to Division Street, a little more than 2 miles.

MDOT Traverse City Transportation Service Center Manager Dan Wagner and Cost and Scheduling Engineer Lucas Porath, the latter who will essentially serve as the project manager, said the plan is to do the section from Garfield to Front first in 2023. After a two-week pause for the National Cherry Festival, the section from Front to Division will then be undertaken.

But it will not come without major detours and interruption, just like it was in 2017 when the Murchie Bridge was replaced. A directional detour using Eighth Street to access downtown westbound was shown on one slide.

“It’s going to be a very disruptive period for a year,” Aylsworth admitted. “It will be the Murchie Bridge times two.”

MDOT officials are planning two public outreach meetings after Thanksgiving, a virtual session on Nov. 30 and an in-person event on Dec. 1.

A lot of the discussion on Grandview Parkway changes focused on the East Front Street intersection and connecting to the Progressive AE project.

Proposals include making the intersection into more of a ‘T’ with a dedicated left-turn lane onto East Front. Also proposed is an improved pedestrian and bicycle crossing without having to go under the Murchie Bridge.

“This is going to rock everybody’s world,” said Aylsworth, a lifelong resident.

Also proposed is a double left turn lane onto Division from Grandview Parkway to alleviate backups. Dedicated left-hand turn lanes into Hall Street, Delamar Traverse City and Peninsula Drive are also planned. Aylsworth said these turn lanes will alleviate “the Traverse City dance” of vehicles that rapidly change from the left lane to the right to avoid waiting behind cars looking to make a turn.

There are other places where Grandview Parkway will have five lanes. Stormwater upgrades, replacing the rockers under the Murchie Bridge and working with the city to install new underground infrastructure is also part of the 2023 reconstruction.

Increasing connectivity and access for bicyclists and pedestrians was part of another measure approved by the DDA on Friday. The DDA, the city and TART Trails will equally divide a $27,000 contract with Progressive AE for engineering services for an expansion.

TART Trails CEO Julie Clark said a separated system along a portion of the parkway would create a more coordinated system that sees usage in the millions on an annual basis. DDA board member Steve Nance later said where the trail crosses Grandview Parkway near Division could also be improved, calling it “the worst crossing on the TART Trail.”

In other business at the more than two-hour meeting, the DDA board:

  • Appointed Pete Kirkwood and Scott Hardy to a committee to interview bidders for a downtown riverwalk/pedestrian plaza between the 100 and 200 blocks of Front Street and the Boardman River.
  • Established an after-hours (3:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday) parking permit rate for parking garages at the rate of 75% of the regular rate.
  • Approve a one-time benefit for 24 hours of paid time for DDA employees as part of “staff appreciation week” during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

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