By Tom Carr
A lot of people think of Acme as a place to drive through, often coming to or going from Traverse City.
But people who live and own businesses here think that if they can slow down some of that traffic, the scenic shores of East Grand Traverse Bay will make them want to stop. Local officials want to make it easier to pull over along the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay, so they've proposed a bypass sending much of the traffic to the east.
Marcie Timmins attended the recent open house unveiling the plan, and she's excited about it.
"I think that if you make it easy to get to then people will come. And they'll be able to get there using different vehicles of transportation, whether it's biking off the Tart trail and coming down to cool off in the water," Timmins said. "Maybe they live on the other side of 72 and they're coming in from farmland or some other place to go swimming. Just being able to connect people and get them together."
Acme Township government has been buying up waterfront land for several years now. They hope to eventually replace some of the homes and businesses with uninterrupted shoreline, walking and biking trails and maybe a splash pad.
The problem is, those improvements may go largely unused if the 50 mile-per-hour traffic doesn't slow down and take notice.
So now they've come up with the plan to redirect that traffic on a bypass and reduce the number of lanes along the shore.
But not everyone is crazy about the plan.
Linda Pucilowski lives just a few yards from the curb. What is now a highway whizzing by her front door would be narrowed to make way for parallel parking, sidewalks and bike lanes.
She'd rather have the highway.
"I'd be sitting in a parking lot, so to me it would be a downside," Pucilowski said. "I would rather have the traffic than the parking lot."
Many are skeptical because they've seen bypass dreams languish for years in other places. 60 miles north of Acme, the city of Petoskey is also on U.S. 31. Officials there tried for years to develop a bypass with help from the state and federal governments. The idea eventually died for lack of a local consensus.
So for the last 15 years or so, local governments have been building new roads and widening existing ones. That network of roads now acts as a bypass skirting the city of Petoskey. Brian Gutowski, director of the Emmet County Road Commission, says that has increased traffic on some of the county roads. But it hasn't made a dent in the gridlock on U.S. 31.
"You're still going to get the summer traffic that's going to really bog down U.S. 31 in the city during the summer months," Gutowski said.
Plans are to upgrade those county roads for heavier traffic. Also, officials are looking at new signs that would better direct traffic to the bypass routes.
Nobody knows how much a bypass would cost Acme Township. Those numbers will be figured out later in the process if the township approves the plan.
Township manager Sharon Vreeland says for now they are trying to line up from the state and federal agencies that manage the highway.
"We've shown the plans to the local MDOT officials to get their feedback and find out what it would take," she said. "They haven't told us that it would be easy or fast or inexpensive, but they haven't said that it's completely impossible."
The township board hopes to vote early next month on adopting the long-term plan.