(C. Proxmire, June 21, 2013)
Despite resolutions against it by the cities of Ferndale, Hazel Park and Detroit, The Southeastern Michigan Council of Government (SEMCOG) voted this week to approve their 2040 Regional Transit Plan that includes the widening of I-75.
According to the plan, “Other critical needs include reconstruction of I-94 in the City of Detroit and I-75 in Oakland County. These projects contribute heavily to our access to markets and our overall economic prosperity.” The plan also notes that increased freight traffic could come from the building of a Blue Water Bridge Plaza and the expected new bridge to Canada.
The plan explains the cost of the expansion, stating “Approximately $ 5.9 billion is allocated for MDOT capacity improvements that include major freeway projects on I – 75 and I -94; the Blue Water Bridge Plaza; the New International Bridge Crossing (NITC); and, two smaller capacity projects. For clarification: Federal requirements stipulate that the $1.75 billion cost for the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) be included even though the Canadian government is responsible for funding the project. The vast majority of the costs associated with the I- 75 and I – 94 projects are related to the reconstruction of these facilities. Only a small portion is related to capacity expansion. An additional, $0.9 billion is allocated for various local road capacity improvements.”
The construction of I-75 is slated to happen between 2021-2035, and would add one lane in each direction. A resolution in opposition, passed by the City of Ferndale on June 10, gives details of the City’s concerns.
“At a time when Ferndale and other communities lack the funds to maintain existing roadway infrastructure, these expansion projects are not a priority use of our limited transportation dollars…. the changing outlook for the metropolitan region has reduced the need for highway capacity expansion. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) began planning these expansion projects in the 1990s, projecting that regional population and traffic would continue to increase indefinitely. SEMCOG’s 2040 Plan now predicts that the metropolitan region will not regain its 2000 population before 2040, and that traffic will increase only slightly over that period, if at all. The rationale for both freeway projects should be reassessed in light of these developments.”
Councilperson Melanie Piana, who introduced the resolution, said “Let’s rethink why we need these projects and spend the expansion dollars someplace else… Let’s re-purpose that money to the long list of projects we have in the region that are unfunded and sort of keep it to a fix it first policy.”
Piana also explained the phenomena of “induced demand,” saying “You think when you add lanes you are shortening the time, but what happens is you add more cars there and it goes back to what it was, so you’re not really alleviating traffic congestion.”
Ferndale passed a resolution against the expansion in 2004, as did the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. Mayor Dave Coulter recalled the discussion. “I was on the County Commission when this came up and Ferndale originally passed their resolution in opposition and we did the same thing. It was striking to me. We had a good robust debate about this. The County Administration, under Brooks Patterson, was adamantly in favor of this expansion and made the argument that if we expanded I-75 one lane in each direction that we could reduce the time it takes to get from M-59 to 8 Mile by nine minutes. … [It] is not worth nine minutes of quicker travel time,” Coulter said.
The plan was approved by SEMCOG in accordance with the procedure for obtaining Federal grant money.
The Transportation Plan also contains dozens of other projects to be completed before 2040, including repairs to infrastructure like roads and bridges throughout the area. For all the details on the plan, visit SEMCOG’s website at http://www.semcog.org/2040RegionalTransportationPlan.aspx.