Hammond Hartman

A rendering of the future Hammond-Hartman bridge was presented this week by OHM Advisors at the Grand Traverse Road Commission meeting.

TRAVERSE CITY — A bridge, long in both its making and size, will span the Boardman River and its surrounding wetlands to connect Hartman and Hammond roads.

At its meeting this week, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission unanimously approved a final report from OHM Advisors recommending the crossing. The approval paves the way for the next phase — making sure the 2,000-foot crossing meets guidelines in the federal National Environment Policy Act from 1970.

The phase could take up to 15 months and will be followed by acquisition of property and a detailed design. Construction could begin in about six years, said Road Commission Manager Brad Kluczynski.

“We want to keep moving to the best of our ability,” said Jason Gillman, road commission chairman. “Look, it’s taken us 50 years to get here.”

Not everyone is happy about the bridge.

“We’ll be fighting that again,” said Ann Rogers, who is on the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council board.

Rogers, who spent many years as board chair, remembers fighting construction of the bridge in the 1990s.

“It tears up the (Boardman River) valley and there’s so many sensitive areas,” Rogers said. “Plus, it’s not needed ... The more roads you build, the more traffic will come.”

The bridge is expected to ease traffic on Airport Road, which has become frustrating for many drivers as the county grows and sees more visitors.

Costs for the bridge, which is designed for a span of about 2,000 feet, last year were estimated at about $81 million. This week, Kluczynski estimated costs at upward of $100 million. Most of the costs will be funded by federal dollars, with some state and local funding. It is expected to have a life span of 120 years, he said.

The bridge will have separated paths for pedestrians and bicyclists and possibly a scenic turnout. When complete, it will likely be the largest bridge owned by a county agency in the U.S. and the third largest bridge in Michigan, with the Mackinaw Bridge being No. 1 and the Zilwaukee Bridge as the state’s No. 2.

Other options looked at in a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study by consultants OHM Advisors was a crossing at the Sabin Dam, which was determined to be too close to the Boardman River Nature Center.

“If we were to build it ... you can practically see the cars going by the nature center when you’re sitting outside. That was a very negative impact,” said Bill Zipp, senior project manager for OHM. “When we discovered that, it was a killer for this alternative.”

Another, the widening of the Cass Road crossing, seemed to be the most obvious because there is already a bridge there, Zipp said. It was the least expensive, but had the most residential displacement and would require the construction of a new railroad bridge, he said.

The study showed that the Hartman-Hammond bridge will divert the most traffic from Airport Road (about 37 percent) and will impact about an acre of wetlands, compared to Sabin, which had 3.6 acres impacted and Cass, with 4.7 acres.

The Road Commission began exploring another crossing for the Boardman River in the early 1980s, although an environmental impact statement wasn’t prepared until 2001. At that time, the Hartman-Hammond crossing was recommended.

But the study was found lacking and resource agencies wouldn’t issue a permit so the project died, Zipp said.

In 2019, an East-West corridor study was completed by OHM that recommended several ways to cut down on traffic congestion and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. It included adding roundabouts, widening some roadways, traffic signal optimization and the additional bridge.

Many of those suggestions are underway or have been put in place by the Road Commission, including roundabouts at Keystone/Beitner and River roads and at Keystone and Cass.

OHM later completed the PEL that was done in stages, with public hearings held last year to present the three bridge options and costs for each.

“Basically, the purpose (of the PEL) is to determine whether a new crossing is warranted, needed and, if so, where it should be,” Zipp said.

OHM was paid $391,062 to do East-West corridor study and about $2 million for the PEL.

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