Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / RE: Proposed $1.3 billion widening of seven miles of Interstate 94 in Detroit

RE: Proposed $1.3 billion widening of seven miles of Interstate 94 in Detroit

May 11, 2001 |

Dear Senators Levin and Stabenow, Michigan Senators Hoffman, Goschka, and Young, and Michigan Representatives Shulman, LaSata, C. Brown, R. Brown, Caul, Clarke, Frank, Godchaux, Jansen, Jelinek, Kooiman, Lockwood, Mead, Mortimer, Newell, Pappageorge, Pestka, Phillips, Plakas, Pumford, Reeves, Shackleton, Stallworth, Stamsas, Stewart, Switalski, Toy, Vander Roest and Whitmer:

We are writing you today because we believe that Michigan stands at a crossroads regarding the future of its transportation system. In one direction, Michigan citizens are calling for better maintained roads and congestion-fighting bus and train options. In the other direction, the Michigan Department of Transportation is proposing to pour billions of dollars into new and wider highways. MDOT hopes that doing the same old thing will yield new results. We hope you will take action to steer Michigan in a better direction.

For years, MDOT has pledged to focus its funding on long-deferred road and bridge repairs. Unfortunately, MDOT’s words do not match its actions. While claiming that it lacks the money to fix the roads, MDOT presently proposes to spend about $4 billion on new and wider highways. As a result, more than half the state’s roads still need complete reconstruction in the next seven years, according to current MDOT data.

The most expensive of MDOT’s plans is the widening of just seven miles of Interstate-94 in Detroit for $1.3 billion. We’re asking you to pay special attention to this project because it epitomizes what is wrong with MDOT’s priorities.

If expanded, the I-94 freeway and its parallel service drives would cover an unprecedented 24 lanes, between I-96 and Connor Avenue. After completing this project, MDOT plans to continue widening I-94 along a 20-mile stretch between Wyoming Avenue and I-696, for untold billions of dollars more. The massive $1.3 billion price tag for phase one of the I-94 widening is roughly equal to the state’s entire annual budget for road repair.

Spending billions of dollars to widen I-94 is a risky, short-term solution. Numerous national studies — both public and private — have found that widened highways discourage carpooling and riding transit and actually encourage more driving. The result is that a few years after a highway is widened, it fills up with traffic and more widening is proposed. In the meantime, roads across the state will continue to decay while funding is directed to build new and wider roads.

We ask you to urge MDOT to fix roads first, before spending billions of dollars to build new and wider highways. In 1997, MDOT promised to bring at least 90% of the state’s roads and bridges into good condition by 2007. But MDOT’s data shows that they have made little progress toward that goal. During the next six years, more than half of all state roads will need to be replaced, not just patched. The cost to do so is rapidly increasing, in part because the department has deferred important maintenance activities while investing in projects like the I-94 widening.

Michigan motorists pay a high price for the state’s poor roads. In 1998, the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Washington, D.C.-based Surface Transportation Policy Project studied the cost of driving on pothole-ridden roads in major metropolitan areas. We found that due to poor road conditions and delays, Detroit drivers each paid $186 per year in car repairs and extra fuel costs, while Grand Rapids drivers paid about $155 a piece. Michigan motorists should not have to pay for road repair and then pay more for road-induced car repair.

MDOT Director Greg Rosine claims that his department lacks the money to sustain its road repair program. That’s hard to reconcile with MDOT’s soaring budget. In 1997, the state Legislature hiked the gas tax by 4 cents, adding about $300 million a year to MDOT’s coffers. In 1998, the federal TEA-21 law boosted MDOT’s annual transportation funding 61 percent, to more than $800 million a year. MDOT has the funding in place for an aggressive road repair program, but instead is proposing to spend about a year’s worth of road repair money on the first stage of widening I-94. The choice for lawmakers and MDOT, literally, is to widen I-94 or provide quality roads to motorists across the entire state.

There are other, cost-effective proposals to relieve congestion in metropolitan Detroit. Using federal funds earmarked by Michigan’s congressional delegation, the state currently is studying two passenger rail projects along the same I-94 corridor that MDOT wants to widen. One study is examining the prospects for passenger rail service from Detroit to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The other study is looking at passenger rail service from Detroit to Lansing, with stops in Ann Arbor and Howell. Moreover, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments is completing a "transit visioning" process and this fall will adopt its first practical, regional transit plan. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce also is actively supporting the creation of a regional transit system. We’re asking you to urge MDOT to put the brakes on its desire to widen the I-94 freeway and service drives to 24 lanes while these promising public transit studies are completed.

Recent government-sponsored surveys — both in Michigan and nationally — show that the public wants road repair to come before new construction and also wants options to ever-wider highways. In March, a survey sponsored by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments found that regional residents viewed the condition of road surfaces as the most serious transportation problem in southeast Michigan.

The survey also showed that southeast Michigan residents want a new transit system and are willing to pay for it. An overwhelming 77 percent of respondents said they would likely use a new transit system. And 59 percent of respondents indicated that they would support additional funding for a new public transit system. Only 14 percent indicated they would oppose such a tax. (http://www.semcog.org/news/releases/surveyresults.html)

The results are not surprising. In the Detroit metropolitan area, nearly a third of residents do not drive, and would receive no benefit from the $1.3 billion I-94 widening proposal. But expanded transit services would benefit everyone, so they are more widely supported than expensive road construction projects.

This view is shared nationally, where a survey released in April by the Federal Highway Administration found that a majority of the public favors expanding public transportation and building bikeways and sidewalks, while new roads are much less popular. Respondents to the "Moving Ahead" survey favored transit, bikeways, and sidewalks by over 60 percent. Less than 40 percent favored building more roads. (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/movingahead.htm)

Meanwhile across the nation, for the first time since World War II, growth in the public’s use of buses and trains is consistently outpacing growth in driving. Fresh government and industry figures show that in the past five years, transit use nationally has grown by 21 percent while driving has increased by just 11 percent, with growth in driving flat in the year 2000. This is a dramatic turnaround from the early 1990's when driving grew steadily and transit use plummeted 11.8 percent.

Simply put, transit helps ease congestion and prolong the life of the road system. That’s why cities such as Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Memphis are studying or building new passenger rail lines. These cities, and dozens more, have lined up to share in federal funding for new bus and train systems. Typically, the Federal Transit Administration pays for 50 to 80 percent of the capital cost.

Michigan is forgoing the federal transit funding by not advancing a regional bus or rail proposal. For example, in 1997, an MDOT study showed that $130 million would pay to build three commuter rail lines from Detroit to Mt. Clemens, Pontiac, and Ann Arbor — complete with trains, track, and stations. Rather than working to build support for such a promising rail plan, MDOT shelved it and instead proposed to spend 10 times as much money to widen just seven miles of I-94.

We, the undersigned, urge you to oppose additional funding for the Interstate 94 widening project in Detroit. And we urge you to tell the Michigan Department of Transportation to redirect available funds to repairing state roads and improving public transit services.

We respectfully ask that you communicate your decision promptly to MDOT. The transportation department already has spent several million dollars planning the I-94 project, and has budgeted nearly $100 million to complete the design phase and $250 million to manage traffic during construction. MDOT can save precious taxpayer dollars, and a great deal of time, once the agency realizes it is no longer possible to pursue phase one of the I-94 widening.

Thank you for your leadership and for choosing the right path for Michigan’s transportation future. We would be happy to speak with you directly about this matter.


Michigan Land Use Institute
United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan
Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength (MOSES)
West Michigan Environmental Action Council
Michigan Environmental Council
Ecology Center
Faith in Motion
Grand Rapids Center for Independent Living
West Michigan Region Environmental Network (WREN)
Branch County RICC (Regional Interagency Coordinating Committee)
People First of Branch County
Huron Land Use Alliance
Transportation Action Strategy for Kalamazoo
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Public Interest Research Group in Michigan
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Surface Transportation Policy Project
Transit Riders United
Jennifer Hill Buehrer
Paul C. Covel
Robert Fitzke
Jeff Newman
John and Deborah Rohe

Michigan Land Use Institute

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