Road Project Updates: Hartman-Hammond Bridge, Bluff Road, Veterans/Cedar Run/Voice Resurfacing

While winter is typically a quiet season for road work, planning is already taking place for projects on deck in 2023 and beyond. The Ticker has updates on several local road projects, including what’s next for a proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge, the latest with the closed section of Bluff Road on Old Mission Peninsula, and planned resurfacing projects next year on Veterans Drive, Cedar Run Road, and Voice Road.

Hartman-Hammond Bridge
GTCRC board members recently approved a $1.8 million contract with OHM Advisors to move into the next planning phase for a proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge (pictured, rendering). That step, called a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, is federally required and typically takes a year to complete. The review will more closely analyze project details, including where exactly the crossing would land on US-31, and demonstrate that alternate options to a bridge – such as widening South Airport Road – aren’t viable.

If federal officials are satisfied with the NEPA results, they will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) – clearing the way for the project to proceed. Bill Zipp of OHM Advisors told GTCRC board members that the road commission can’t start acquiring right-of-way property necessary to build the bridge until the FONSI is in place. After a FONSI is issued, GTCRC can also move into detailed engineering and design. GTCRC Manager Brad Kluczynski tells The Ticker that designing the bridge – which could be up to 2,000 feet long, making it one of the largest bridges in Michigan – will require a specialized firm.

“We have every intention of moving right out of NEPA into the design work,” he says. “There are probably only 10 firms in the US that can design this type of project. We’ve already had firms from Oregon, Texas, and California contacting us about it.”

After a FONSI is issued, GTCRC must continue to make progress on the bridge project; if there is a period of nonactivity for five years, the environmental impact evaluation has to be redone. But despite the bridge’s high price tag – it’s estimated to cost upwards of $100 million – Kluczynski says GTCRC has momentum and is moving forward after decades of discussion about a possible bypass.

“We need another crossing somewhere that can move traffic east to west,” he says. “The next year will tell us everything (about the viability of the bridge project). When this happened the last time, and we had lawsuits, the problem is (the GTCRC then) didn’t follow the process that we have. As long as we continue that and follow the process exactly the way the feds have said, the only holdback will be money. And there’s a lot of federal money that could come to help us. This process is still time-consuming, and we still have a long way to go, but I don’t see us stopping at this point. And I think the community supports it.”

Bluff Road
Estimates from two different engineering firms have put repairs to a section of Bluff Road closed due to erosion on Old Mission Peninsula in the $4 million range, according to Kluczynski. That price tag is prompting GTCRC to consider decertifying the road, though staff will first pursue grant opportunities to fund a possible fix. Kluczynski says decertification – which would happen in March, when GTCRC annually certifies its roads – would mean building cul-de-sacs on either end of Bluff and leaving the center section as a “non-traversable road” that would still provide property access to owners.

“It’s 200 cars a day (on Bluff Road),” says Kluczynski. “Do you spend that kind of money for 200 cars a day and take away from other projects throughout the county, or do you find another creative solution that provides access but doesn’t keep it in the same road configuration as it is now?”

Kluczynski says GTCRC is still pursuing multiple options, including submitting a grant application this month to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to relocate part of Bluff Road. “There are funds available to do a relocation, but they will not give us funds to put the road in the same location, because it’s not a sustainable long-term location,” he says. “We have to think outside the box and not have the road right on the shoreline, which will continue to have problems into the future.”

GTCRC is also providing a letter of support for Peninsula Township to apply for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from Grand Traverse County for road repairs. GTCRC County Highway Engineer/Manager of Engineering Wayne Schoonover recently told board members that part of the challenge is that Bluff Road is suffering from three issues – coastal erosion, a perched water table, and surface waters – and that “unless you’re going to address all three for a large amount of money…you’re not fully solving the problem. You’re going to have to address the whole big picture.” He also noted that even if GTCRC decertifies the road, it could recertify and reopen the road in the future if a permanent solution emerged. Kluczynski says a committee of GTCRC, township, and resident representatives are meeting regularly and evaluating options to try and find an “amicable” outcome for the future of Bluff Road.

Veterans Drive, Cedar Run, Voice Road
GTCRC board members recently approved cost-sharing agreements with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for three road projects to take place in Grand Traverse County next year. Veterans Drive will be resurfaced from South Airport Road to the south city limits – a project estimated to cost $509,500, with local funds covering $223,898. Cedar Run Road will also be resurfaced from approximately 550 feet west of Harris Road to North Long Lake Road. That project is estimated to cost $503,500, with local funds covering $173,500. Federal funds will cover the remaining costs for both projects, which will be packaged together in a December MDOT bid letting. Construction is expected to take place between May and September next year.

The GTCRC will also kick in roughly 20 percent of project costs for a $1.357 million project to resurface Voice Road from Garfield Road to Pierce Road in Kingsley. Work will also include widening and paving the road shoulders, concrete curb and gutter, guardrail, and permanent pavement markings. Construction will take place next summer. A memo from Kluczynski also mentions two other significant projects on the horizon: Design plans will be completed next summer for a resurfacing project on Parsons Road between Three Mile Road and the city limits, with construction scheduled for early 2024. Utility and right-of- way work is also underway now for a planned roundabout at the Garfield/Potter/Hoch intersection. That project is expected to go out to bid next fall, with work to start in early 2024.

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