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This Thursday: Weigh in on the proposed Boardman River bridge

Westbound traffic on Hammond Road, toward the proposed site of the crossing over the Boardman River. (Photo: Ellie Katz/IPR News)
Westbound traffic on Hammond Road, toward the proposed site of the crossing over the Boardman River. (Photo: Ellie Katz/IPR News)

The public will soon have a chance to weigh in on what’s been a controversial project for the Grand Traverse County Road Commission: the proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge across the Boardman River.

The project’s cost was previously estimated at $100 million, but recent documents obtained by a Traverse City non-profit show the cost estimate has tripled in just a year.

The roughly $300 million river crossing is up for discussion at the Grand Traverse County Road Commission Board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.

“I think the longer we delay, the longer the process takes, the more this is going to cost,” said Alan Lehman, a board member of the road commission. “There’s very few contractors that can do the work, their labor forces are very tight, materials are really hard to get. So I think the whole industry is in a shortage situation, and I don’t see any hope on the horizon that it’s going to get much better.”

The documents revealing the higher cost were created by the road commission and their consultants, then submitted to MDOT by the road commission.

Lehman and other road commission board members say they believe the $280 to $320 million cost in the documents is likely an overestimate, meant to account for still unknown factors like acquisition costs.

But road commission board member Jason Gillman said he was surprised and disappointed when he learned — around the same time the public did — that the cost estimate had increased nearly threefold.

“The way that it is now, there’s no way we can ask the community for $200 to $300 million. There’s just no way,” said Gillman. “I see the additional crossing as an absolute necessity. It must happen at some point. It’s just whether we’re going to have the wherewithal to do it now, and whether or not we have to beg the federal government for the money to do it. We need to do it. But it’s hard to imagine doing it without the federal government and I’m just not happy about it.”

The road commission board says they hope to fund around 80 percent of the project with federal money. They’re also seeking state funds, and may consider proposing a millage if necessary.

Kelly Thayer is an independent consultant who works with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, the non-profit who obtained the recent documents submitted to MDOT by the road commission through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Thayer said he believes the road commission board is going against the findings of a study they commissioned in 2019 to study east-west traffic congestion across Traverse City.

That study recommended the Grand Traverse County Road Commission pursue a “mix of fixes” across the county in the short-term and consider a river crossing further down the line.

“[The study] gets somewhat granular in detail as it relates to South Airport Road. It is the problem, and fixing it is the solution,” said Thayer. “Trying to build another South Airport Road somewhere else while ignoring the core problem has not worked for the last 20 years, and it’s not going to work for the next 20.”

The public can weigh in on the issue this Thursday, August 24th. The 7 p.m. meeting is open to the public at the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, 1881 LaFranier Road in Traverse City.

People can also attend on Zoom:

Zoom information:
CALL IN: 1-312-626-6799
WEBINAR ID: 880 4095 1439

Members of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission Board can be reached here.

Updated: August 23, 2023 at 9:56 AM EDT
This story has been updated to clarify that the documents mentioned in our reporting originated with the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and their hired consultants.
Ellie Katz joined IPR in June 2023. She reports on science, conservation and the environment.