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Boardman River bridge may cost triple what road commission estimated

An entrance to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. Munson Healthcare announced changes that will affect all seven of their hospitals across northern Michigan. (Photo: Ellie Katz/IPR News)
An entrance to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. Munson Healthcare announced changes that will affect all seven of their hospitals across northern Michigan. (Photo: Ellie Katz/IPR News)

In July 2022, Grand Traverse County Road Commission estimated the Hartman-Hammond bridge — a 2,200-foot bridge that would relive east-west traffic by creating a corridor over the Boardman River — would cost around $100 million.

Now, documents show it’s closer to $300 million.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The documents, which were project details submitted by the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to MDOT as part of the review process, included updated funding estimates.

And it's those numbers that are nearly triple what they were a year ago.

The road commission now estimates construction and design engineering costs to range from $280 million to $320 million.

Brad Kluczynski is manager of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. He says one reason for the higher cost is a bridge design that minimizes environmental impact.

“The bridge cost has gone up substantially because of the limited number of pillars that we’re steering towards,” said Kluczynski. “And also we’ve had drastic inflation in that amount of time. ... Our projects are probably 25 percent higher than they were even a year ago for paving roads.”

But the Groundwork Center says that money would be better spent elsewhere.

Kelly Thayer is an independent consultant working with Groundwork on the project. He also helped file the FOIA request that obtained the new documents and cost estimates.

Thayer and his colleagues believe the proposed bridge is excessively costly and fails to solve the issue of congestion, referring to a 2019 study of east-west traffic in Greater Traverse City completed by Grand Traverse County Road Commission.

“[The study] said you can get just as much congestion relief from a mix of fixes across the roads, from Grand Traverse Bay to Beitner Road,” Thayer said. “They said to spread the fixes around. More people will benefit. You’ll get as much, if not more, relief from congestion across more areas of the region, and it will cost far less, and it will happen much sooner. It’s better, faster, cheaper.”

The 2019 East-West Corridor Transportation Study detailed a multi-year solution, which suggested fixes like widening portions of South Airport and Keystone Roads sooner, and considering bridges across the Boardman River in the future.

A July 2022 study that explored potential new river crossings determined the Hartman-Hammond bridge to be the best option.

Kluczynski says the road commission has already made some of the fixes suggested in the 2019 study, but they’re not enough to accommodate the amount of growth and development experienced and projected in the county.

“You are going to be talking about a county that is far larger than it is today. Whether we have the roads to support it or not, people are going to be here, and that’s where the fundamental problem comes in,” said Kluczynski. “We are following — we are not leading — in building road corridors. We are following where the density is.”

Kluczynski says he expects the majority of the Hartman-Hammond Bridge cost to be funded through a mixture of grants, mostly federal.

He says the road commission submitted its funding plan to MDOT this week, which must review and approve the plan before the project is allowed to move to its next phase.

Ellie Katz joined IPR in June 2023. She reports on science, conservation and the environment.