Consultants: Improve South Airport Road

The East-West Transportation Study has been ongoing since March 2018 and aims to identify a range of solutions to mobility issues in Grand Traverse County. Here, Matt Wendling, OHM project manager, talks to representatives of local area agencies and groups about some of the long-term recommendations. A connection between Hammond and Hartman roads isn't among the recommendations because it's cost prohibitive.

TRAVERSE CITY — Improvements to existing infrastructure are the focus of short- and long-term recommendations to address mobility needs in Grand Traverse County.

The East-West Corridor Transportation Study, under the supervision of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, has been ongoing since March 2018. Proposed solutions on Tuesday were presented to representatives of local agencies and groups by study team member, led by OHM Advisors. A public meeting is scheduled for April 30.

The majority of recommendations revolve around improvements to South Airport Road. Recommendations for the next one to five years include upgrades to intersections with high crash volumes or operational issues; access management improvements; and traffic signal optimization, such as re-timing signals in that corridor.

John Nelson is pleased to hear those recommendations. Nelson attended the meeting as a representative of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council.

“To be honest, at some points in the process, I was a little apprehensive about where it was going,” Nelson said. “But the NMEAC has always been favorable to a mix of fixes on existing infrastructure and that’s what it sounds like the short-term and long-term recommendations will be to the road commission.”

Intersections where short-term improvements are suggested include three on South Airport Road — at Garfield, Barlow Street and Park Drive; two on West Hammond Road — at Garfield and Three Mile roads; and two on North Keystone Road — at Cass and Beitner roads.

Consultants, for 10-year projects, are recommending widening or redesigning specific stretches of corridors — South Airport Road from Logan’s Landing to Garfield and North Keystone Road from West Hammond Road to Cass Road.

Consultants wanted to look at what would be economically feasible for the road commission to go out and implement right away, said Matt Wendling, OHM project manager.

“That does two things — it shows that this isn’t another study that’s going to end up on the shelf collecting dust,” Wendling said. “This is something, hopefully, that’s on the table, opened up, that they can go in and say, ‘Let’s start programming some of these. What did the safety and crash analysis present? Where can we make the greatest improvements right now?’”

The cost of the recommended long-term solutions is about $6 million, he said.

Costs for both the short- and long-term recommendations are of concern to Nicole Blonshine, a Blair Township supervisor.

“I think I need some more statistics on the cost-benefit factor,” she said. “I think also, I personally need some more conversation with MDOT in regards to the Chums Corner intersection because it appears that Beitner Road has been taken out of this and there are actually folks sitting on Keystone-Hartman, Keystone-Cass; and (the) Beitner and Chums Corner area is highly congested and causes a lot of backups.

“I do realize Chums Corner is MDOT, but Beitner is Grand Traverse County Road Commission,” she added.

Blonshine said she’s looking forward to getting more public input.

One of the more controversial corridors that was examined as part of the study is a connection between Hartman and Hammond roads. Once again, that has been set aside.

Wendling said a Hartman-Hammond bridge — just the bridge — would cost $44 million, and as such is cost-prohibitive. It might be a "long, long-term project," but a new bridge would provide about as much relief as $6 million worth of improvements on South Airport Road would, he said.

The road commission began studying the Hartman-Hammond bridge in the late 1990s to improve crosstown traffic. It 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 report recommended the Hartman-Hammond connection remain tucked away until a future date.

The public meeting will take place on April 30 at the Hagerty Conference Center from 6-8 p.m. A presentation will be given by study team members, followed by a more open house-style portion where attendees can view information and ask questions.