December 11, 2013 – Last Friday, SEMCOG’s Executive Committee amended the FY 2014-17 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), including improvements to I-75 and I-94. That TIP approval makes transportation projects eligible for federal and state funding. If you have been following the papers, radio, or social media, you know that there has been a great deal of controversy regarding these projects. SEMCOG’s Executive Committee considered public comments and, following their own spirited discussion, approved the amendment.
It is good to have these kinds of discussions, especially on such large and complicated projects. We can, however, lose sight of the intended purpose of the projects. Let me provide you with some of the facts:
- I-75 and I-94 are more than 50 years old and in need of maintenance and upgrades.
- I-94 and I-75 are the most heavily traveled roads in the State of Michigan.
- The congestion on these freeways is negatively impacting neighborhoods and businesses in Detroit. Despite the region’s economic downturn, they both remain congested today.
- The congestion results in increased air pollution and unsafe travel.
- Both projects are critical to our region’s economic future; 40 million tons of freight worth over $55 billion moves inefficiently as a result of congestion and safety mishaps every year. Further, both projects will help the region capitalize on the benefits of a new bridge to Canada.
- Twelve of the top 20 Fortune 500 companies rely on these two freeways, impacting 2.6 million jobs today.
- Safety of the bridges on these freeways is a major concern. Fourteen bridges are rated “critical” and eight bridges rated “poor” along the sections proposed to be improved.
- 80 percent of the costs of the I-94 project are for fixing or replacing pavement, bridges, and unsafe interchanges. Yes, there is limited roadway widening, but the additional lanes are for operational and safety purposes to allow drivers to safely sort themselves out between the interchanges of I-94 with I-75 and the Lodge.
- 98 percent of the costs of the I-75 improvement are for reconstruction of pavement and bridges. The lane proposed to be added on I-75 is going to be a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, which rewards carpooling and vanpooling.
- No one wants improved transit more than SEMCOG. The dollars for the I-94 and I-75 projects, however, cannot be redirected to transit projects. SEMCOG has worked tirelessly to improve the region’s transit including:
- Developing the Ann Arbor to Detroit Commuter Rail project.
- Leading the necessary analysis to institute state-of-the-art bus rapid transit (BRT) service on Woodward from the Detroit River to Pontiac.
- Actively providing staff to the newly created Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to move it to its transit planning and prioritizing role and to enable it to secure federal funding to implement those plans and high-priority projects.
- Approving funding to support all of the additional transit needs of the region.
Our efforts on these and other transit projects will continue as we work towards a more balanced transportation system that will provide more choices for more people. We also seek to leverage additional transit dollars from these construction projects to help construct BRT on Woodward and for other needed transit improvements.
The projects added to the TIP have been reviewed for their environmental impacts over the years. Those studies have been updated. To ensure that the most up-to-date conditions have been considered, MDOT will hire a construction manager to relook at current conditions, continue to work with local officials, and to address issues that have been raised by the community in the past months. MDOT will also continue to explore opportunities to reduce costs.
Transportation in Southeast Michigan has become more diverse over the past years. Gone are the days of significantly building the system; here to stay are the days of maintaining and diversifying the system. Over the past 10 years, we have reconstructed over 1,600 miles of roads in Southeast Michigan, while widening only 122 miles (or just 10 miles a year). Last year, only two miles of roads were widened and, at the same time, we had several “road diet” projects that reduced the capacity of several roadways where traffic no longer warranted the existing lanes. At the same time, we’ve built over 290 miles of bike paths – more than twice as many miles as we have widened! In those same 10 years, we have purchased over 2,200 new buses.
The elected officials and transportation agencies in the region have done a great job of spending scarce transportation resources to enhance the biking and walking system, buy new buses, support the Regional Transit Authority, improve traffic safety, rehabilitate roadways, and even decrease the size of the road system in certain areas of the region where there is excess capacity. It is a very balanced approach obviously impacted by the overall lack of additional funding from either the state of federal governments. Our safe, efficient travel and our economic prosperity depend on that balanced approach.
Thanks to all for your participation and perspectives. We look forward to continued dialogue on these and other projects important to the region.
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