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US-31/M-72/M-37 Project FAQs

As most in the community are aware, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) plans to rebuild US-31/M-72/M-37, known locally as East Front Street and Grandview Parkway, from M-37 (Garfield Avenue) to US-31 (Division Street) during the 2023 construction season. This $19 million project will not only replace the pavement on this corridor, but also includes coordinated replacement of the City of Traverse City’s underground utilities, enhancements to help traffic flow and pedestrian/bicyclist safety at several intersections, the addition of stormwater best management practices, landscaping, traffic calming and safety measures at Peninsula Drive, increased interconnectivity to the downtown area, and repairs to the Murchie Bridge over the Boardman River.

I’m concerned that the preliminary design for this project has sidewalks located so closely (in some cases right up to the curb) to the roadway and vehicle traffic. Why isn’t there more separation?

Unfortunately, it is mostly a function of the available room. In some locations, the roadway and sidewalk are using all of MDOT’s available right of way. Some buildings have very limited setbacks from MDOT right of way lines along the corridor, which leave no additional space for widening sidewalks unless the buildings are demolished. While MDOT has budgeted $500,000 for right of way acquisition as part of this project, that is not sufficient to purchase and remove all of those obstacles to achieve wider sidewalks or separation from the roadway for the entirety of the corridor.

Areas of the corridor also abut city-owned park property, which can only be used for park purposes unless another use is approved by “...the electors by a three-fifths (3/5) majority vote...” Traverse City Charter, Chapter XVIII, Section 128 (page 42). Use of this park property for the expansion of MDOT’s right of way to accommodate more comfortable sidewalks, even if approved by local voters, would likely trigger an Environmental Assessment (EA) process that potentially would add years to the project timeline. Due to these constraints, MDOT is working with the City of Traverse City to provide trail improvements as a separate City-led project and will be installing wider and more frequent trail crossings to accommodate the future improvements.

In this limited footprint, dramatic expansion of nonmotorized pathways and sidewalks would require a reduction in the number of roadway lanes, which any resident and visitor can confirm are very busy throughout the year. Reduction of vehicle traffic capacity would result in more delay, diversion of more state highway traffic onto city streets, and decrease safety for all users.

In locations where there is additional space, MDOT and other groups are looking to place sidewalks and trails away from the roadway as much as possible.

Even though the speed limit on this corridor is posted at 35 mph, drivers are often driving faster than that, which makes it more difficult and dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the roadway. Why doesn’t MDOT lower the speed limit to 25 mph and slow traffic down?

MDOT cannot arbitrarily lower a speed limit on a state highway. A joint process with Michigan State Police of reviewing and setting speed limits is set by state law based on the 85th percentile speed, the speed at which 85 percent of vehicles are traveling at or below. A check of speeds on this corridor in 2021 found the 85th percentile speed is 35-36 mph, supporting the current posted speed.

Posting speed limits lower than the 85th percentile does not result in voluntary motorist compliance unless there is strict, continuous, and visible enforcement. Speed limits set too low will be consistently violated and create disregard for speed limits in general.

If speed limits can’t be lowered, what is MDOT doing to lower travel speeds in this corridor?

The safest speed is what the majority of traffic is traveling at, and 85 percent of drivers adhere to properly established speed limits that they feel are reasonable, comfortable and safe for conditions. The design of a roadway does influence traffic speeds, and MDOT is incorporating road design elements that can help to calm traffic, such as narrower lane widths and median islands.

Currently, lane widths on this corridor are roughly 11 feet, less than the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) standard of 12 feet. Narrower lanes cannot be included without approval, but MDOT is pursuing design variances that will allow the retention of 11-foot lane widths in most areas, as well as a variance that will allow a 10-foot lane width along US-31/M-72/M-37 (Front Street) to allow for turn lane extension and wider sidewalks.

The preliminary plans for this project include installation of landscaped median islands along US-31/M-72/M-37 (Grandview Parkway) to help calm traffic and provide additional refuge areas for pedestrians crossing the roadway. Additional pedestrian improvements, such as well-marked crosswalks and the widening of existing crosswalks is also proposed. These improvements provide higher visibility for pedestrians with the added benefit of helping to slow traffic. Low level lighting, also known as “pedestrian-scale” lighting, has the potential to also provide traffic calming by highlighting pedestrian and other non-motorized use in low light conditions and is being considered by the City.

Because much of this road is relatively straight, and the addition of curves is limited by existing right of way, there is little opportunity to change the roadway design speed. Typically, MDOT is required to design a roadway to the current posted limit, plus 5 mph as margin of safety. In this case, MDOT has been permitted to design the road to the current posted speed limit—effectively lowering the design speed to 30 mph.

Why hasn’t MDOT gathered public input on this project before now?

MDOT has been hearing and gathering input from the community on this project for several years. While this project was officially added to the department’s Five-Year Transportation Program in fall 2017, the need for this work has been discussed informally for years based on the deteriorating pavement and underground utilities in the corridor. Staff changes in MDOT’s Traverse City office, as well as meeting restrictions due to the COVID pandemic, have certainly inhibited the public input process.

For the past few years, MDOT staff have had meetings with City of Traverse City representatives and stakeholder groups, such as the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), TART Trails, and Norte, to discuss collaborative and cooperative aspects of the project, and the desires and preferences for what the design will include. Once draft plans had been reviewed and updated with many of those stated preferences, MDOT held additional stakeholder meetings and four public meetings in fall 2021 and winter 2022 to answer questions and hear additional comments. MDOT continues to meet with the city and other stakeholders weekly.

MDOT had many more public input meetings about Division Street, giving the community more chances to talk about what we wanted for future projects. Why hasn’t that been done this time?

In 2015, MDOT and a consultant held a series of four public meetings as part of a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) project, paid for with a legislative earmark. That unique process was specifically to provide a collaborative process for selecting future transportation improvements on the US-31/M-37 (Division Street) corridor and identify preferred alternatives, but at the time no specific projects were proposed or funded. For the 2023 project on US-31/M-72/M-37 (Grandview Parkway and Front Street), a project has been identified and funded, and MDOT has held four public meetings to gather input and address concerns (Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2021, and Feb. 2 and 3, 2022) with roughly 200 people in attendance, in addition to numerous weekly meetings with City of Traverse City officials and representatives of stakeholder groups, including the DDA, TART Trails, and Norte. The process is different but has included several opportunities for public comment.

One of the design elements (adding a second left-turn lane at the Division Street intersection) was guided by the Division Street PEL process.

The Division Street PEL process identified a roundabout at the Division Street/Grandview Parkway intersection as a preferred alternative. Why isn’t that being included in this project?

A roundabout at this intersection would not fit in MDOT’s existing right of way, and expansion of the right of way in this location would require a reduction of the adjacent beach property. A roundabout also would require extensive signalization for pedestrian crossings, which would reduce the benefits of a roundabout. Due to the negative impact to the beach, high number of pedestrians and cyclists using this intersection, and the corresponding reduced effectiveness of a roundabout at this location, the additional right of way acquisition and construction of a roundabout is not supported.

The TART Trail along this corridor has gaps and isn’t wide enough to accommodate all users, and in places it’s too close to the roadway for comfort. What is MDOT doing to fix those issues?

The TART Trail is primarily located on city-owned property, rather than in MDOT right of way, but MDOT is in ongoing discussions with the city, the DDA, and TART Trails leadership to coordinate changes to the trail as part of the 2023 project. These coordination efforts include the addition of expanded and relocated crossings for the TART Trail, and assistance in coordinating with other property owners to accommodate some trail relocation.

The city, DDA and TART Trails organization is separately looking at upgrades and expansion to the trail in this corridor that could potentially be built at the same time as the road project, or at a later date. Those expansions, and improved and new crossings, will help make crossing the roadway more comfortable and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. (TART Trails Project up for Study, Traverse City Record-Eagle, City Leaders To Weigh In On Proposed TART Trail Expansion, Traverse City Ticker).

Progressive AE, the consultant retained by the city and DDA to develop designs for the downtown Front Street corridor, will coordinate a subcommittee to discuss desires for the trail among all parties. The parties are currently seeking $500,000 in funding for trail engineering.

I know the city, stakeholders, and the public have brought up ideas for how the roadway should change with this latest project. Why isn’t MDOT including all of those ideas in the plans?

Some residents have contacted us and the city with their concerns, such as the proximity of sidewalks to the roadway and the lack of a nonmotorized pathway along East Front. Others have contacted the department to request that US-31 be expanded to five lanes with a center left-turn lane from Garfield Avenue to East Front Street. Many of these requests represent different road user interests, but all are affected by several overarching limitations: available funding, limited MDOT right of way, traffic volumes, limited setbacks from existing right of way boundaries, several properties of historical significance, and city park property restrictions. Those limitations, as well as federal standards and state laws, preclude some of the suggestions that have been brought to our attention.

Many suggestions and requests from the community have been incorporated in the current plan:

  • The north/south crosswalk at the US-31/M-37 intersection (Grandview Parkway at Division Street) has moved from the west side to the east and back again during the design process, based on preferences expressed by the City and TART Trails.
  • City-requested mountable curbs in median areas to help with landscaping and maintenance equipment.
  • Addition of sidewalk/curb “bump-outs” at the Hall Street intersection to reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians.
  • Inclusion of a left-turn pocket between medians to accommodate westbound vehicles turning at Park Street.
  • Addition of new pedestrian crossings on the east and west sides of the Park Street intersection.
  • Incorporation of two new pedestrian/TART Trail crossings at the Front Street intersection, as well as a new alignment of the TART Trail on the north side of the intersection, in coordination of the city’s future project on Front Street.
  • Commitment to a minimum of 5-foot-wide sidewalks east of the Front Street intersection where right of way is limited, and 6-foot-wide sidewalks where sufficient room is available.
  • Nearly $1 million in stormwater management enhancements outside of the MDOT right of way.
  • Evaluation of signal operations at all signalized intersections to optimize traffic flow and provide pedestrian protections.
  • Changes to detour planning to accommodate replacement of the city’s underground utilities.\

What is MDOT doing to improve the safety and comfort of bicyclists and pedestrians who are trying to cross Grandview Parkway or Front Street?

At the City’s request, MDOT is investigating inclusion of accessible pedestrian signals for signalized intersections at three locations along Grandview Parkway (Division, Union, and East Front Street), which would provide audible prompts about the “walk” and “don’t walk” intervals. MDOT is also pursuing addition of leading pedestrian intervals to traffic signal timing, giving pedestrians a dedicated opportunity to enter the crosswalk before drivers are given a green signal, enhancing safety for pedestrians through improved visibility and likelihood drivers will yield to them.

Here are some of the other improvements for pedestrian and bicyclist crossings currently included in the plans:

  • The north/south crosswalk at the US-31/M-37 intersection (Grandview Parkway at Division Street) has moved from the west side to the east and back again during the design process, based on preferences expressed by the City and TART Trails. The current configuration requires northbound right-turning drivers to yield to pedestrians using the east-leg crosswalk. Signal timing adjustments are proposed to accommodate a crossing on the west side of the intersection and allow pedestrians to cross the Grandview Parkway without conflicting vehicular turning movements, creating a more comfortable and safe crossing environment.
  • Addition of curb extensions, also known as “bump-outs”, on the south leg of the Hall Street intersection to reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians.
  • Addition of new pedestrian crossings on the east and west sides of the Park Street intersection.
  • Incorporation of two new pedestrian/TART Trail crossings at the Front Street intersection, as well as a new alignment of the TART Trail on the north side of the intersection, in coordination of the city’s future project on Front Street.
  • Commitment to a minimum of 5-foot-wide sidewalks east of the Front Street intersection where right of way is limited, and 6-foot-wide sidewalks where sufficient room is available.
  • Evaluation of signal operations at all signalized intersections to optimize traffic flow and provide pedestrian protections.

The current plans include a new center left-turn lane on US-31/M-72/M-37 (Front Street) at Peninsula Drive, which some believe will encourage more people to use that city street to enter or exit Old Mission Peninsula. Why is MDOT insisting on adding that turn lane?

Traffic studies have shown that thousands of drivers have used Peninsula Drive as another way to access the peninsula daily, and the current design of where Peninsula Drive intersects Front Street causes several safety issues. That intersection has a history of rear-end crashes as eastbound drivers are waiting to turn north on Peninsula Drive, and some southbound drivers on Peninsula Drive disregard the stop sign and proceed onto Front Street without stopping. Over a five-year period, 95 crashes occurred at that location.

The City of Traverse City and MDOT have collaborated on a design to “square up” the intersection to help drivers make safe decisions and narrow the intersection to make it safer and easier for pedestrians to cross. MDOT is now pursuing a design that would incorporate the addition of a center median island in the vicinity of the Peninsula Drive intersection along with a marked crosswalk that would go through the median as a refuge area to provide an opportunity for pedestrians to cross US-31/M-72/M-37 (Front Street) between Garfield Avenue and Barlow Street. Depending on future pedestrian crossing volumes at that location, a HAWK signal, also known as a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon, could potentially be added in the future.

A bypass of US-31/M-72/M-37 has been discussed before? Why doesn’t MDOT just build a bypass on the south side of Traverse City to redirect the highway traffic away from the downtown area?

A bypass has been discussed for several years, but what most studies and surveys have found is that the vast majority of those commuters, visitors, tourists, service providers, and delivery drivers are originating from or destined for a location in Traverse City, rather than passing on to other locations. A recent study for a new “Hartman-Hammond Crossing” found that a new bridge over the Boardman River would only reduce traffic on Grandview Parkway by 2 percent. Traffic volumes have ranged in recent years from roughly more than 19,000 to 38,000 vehicles on average per in this corridor. Seasonal fluctuations, the National Cherry Festival, the Traverse City Film Festival, and other events draw thousands of people to this corridor. Regardless of future design, it is clear that many people (perhaps even growing numbers) will continue to arrive by vehicle on those state highways.

Despite concerns raised during planning, it seems that the redesigned 8th Street, with a reduction of four lanes to three, is working well. Why isn’t MDOT planning a road diet on Front Street and Grandview Parkway?

8th Street is certainly a busy corridor in Traverse City, but US-31/M-72/M-37 (Grandview Parkway and Front Street) serves a different purpose and functions as a corridor joining Traverse City to other communities, and generally carries far more vehicular traffic. FHWA identifies “road diets” as a best practice to prevent congestion and cut-through traffic on local roads and are not recommended when average traffic volumes exceed 15,000-20,000 vehicles per day. Existing traffic volumes range from an average of more than 19,000 and up to 38,000 vehicles per day in this corridor, with peak traffic during summer months climbing to upward of 52,000 vehicles per day.

Reducing the highway to three lanes in this location would likely result in increased travel time, delay, impatience, and frustration, and result in traffic diverting in large volumes to local streets. Reducing travel lanes on the highway would not change the fact that most drivers are using it to access Traverse City but would contribute to traffic choosing other routes not designed to handle that additional traffic, such as neighborhood streets.

Both MDOT and the City of Traverse City have Complete Streets policies. Why aren’t they following those policies in the design for US-31/M-72/M-37 (Grandview Parkway and Front Street)?

The current design is not a case of MDOT ignoring the preferences and needs of the community, but rather one of developing a design that best serves all users within these limitations. All users’ needs have been considered, though some users may not feel all their preferences have been incorporated.

The 2023 project design has not yet been finalized, but already meets Michigan’s Complete Street requirements to consider and provide “appropriate access to all level users in a manner that promotes safe and efficient movement of people and goods whether by car, truck, transit, assistive device, foot, or bicycle.” The City declared its support for Complete Streets policies in a 2011 resolution.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in a report to Congress in March 2022, reiterated its support for Complete Streets policy, while acknowledging constraints.

Working with city representatives, with input from stakeholder groups, we’ve incorporated many design changes to make walking and biking in this corridor safer, more convenient, and more comfortable. We’re working with the city, the DDA, TART Trails, and adjacent landowners to reroute and expand crossings for the trail network and make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the highway at several intersections. These changes are in addition to the recent additions of pedestrian hybrid beacon signals at the Hall Street and Elmwood Avenue intersections, and improved signs and pavement markings at existing crosswalks. The project also includes widening sidewalks where space allows and improving pedestrian crossings on side streets. While some intersections will see the addition of turn lanes, overall, the roadway profile largely will remain the same, with the addition of landscaped medians along the parkway portion.

I’ve heard that MDOT plans to expand US-31/M-72/M-37 (Grandview Parkway and Front Street) to six lanes along the corridor. Won’t that just make traffic faster and louder and make crossing the roadway more difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists?

Much of the current roadway is designed with a four-lane profile, with sections having a center median and turn lanes on the western end, and undivided lanes on the eastern end. While some intersections will see the addition of turn lanes, overall, the roadway profile largely will remain the same, with the addition of landscaped medians along the parkway portion.

There is no sidewalk along the south side of US-31/M-72/M-37 (Grandview Parkway) east of Division Street to Oak Street, or from Union Street to Cass Street. Why isn’t that being added as part of this project?

In the area between Division Street and Oak Street, there is an historic property (a city utility lift station) that would be negatively affected by construction of a sidewalk, which is not permitted with state or federal funding per the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The city may be able to complete that sidewalk segment at a later time. For the Union Street-to-Cass Street section, the expressed city/DDA preference is to have pedestrians use the Boardman River Boardwalk and existing sidewalk/trail through Clinch Park.

The pedestrian hybrid beacon signals (HAWK) at Hall Street and Elmwood Avenue seem to be working well. Why aren’t more of those signals, such as at Oak Street, included with this project design?

Pedestrian crossing volumes at Hall Street and Elmwood Avenue met federal standards for the hybrid beacon installations, though Oak Street did not. The city has asked MDOT to consider adding HAWK signals at the Oak, Hope and Rose street intersections. MDOT plans to continue to monitor pedestrian volumes at locations along the corridor and can consider additional hybrid beacons if those federal standards are met in the future. The current design includes placing conduits beneath the highway at potential future locations to make the addition of HAWK signals easier if conditions warrant them.

Without a center turn lane on US-31/M-72/M-37 (Front Street) between Garfield Avenue and Front Street, drivers are often stuck behind other drivers waiting to make left turns. Why isn’t MDOT adding a center left-turn lane in that segment? Why not dual left-turn lanes for eastbound traffic turning north?

There simply isn’t room in the available right of way in that segment to expand the roadway without reducing or eliminating sidewalks, or purchasing additional real estate and buildings. MDOT currently plans to extend the left-turn lane at M­37 (Garfield Avenue), but not along the entire roadway. The right of way is too narrow at the intersection to add a second left-turn lane, and a combined through/left-turn lane is not expected to provide backup relief due to required signal phasing.