SEMCOG to vote on I-94, I-75 expansions
SEMCOG to vote on I-94, I-75 expansions
DETROIT—The General Assembly of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will soon finalize both short and long-term priorities for transportation funding in the region.
Two documents — the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and the 2014-2017 Transportation Improvement Plan — will be voted on when the body convenes this Thursday, June 20, at the Atheneum Suite Hotel in Greektown.
Both plans identify a wide variety of transportation-related expenditures, including the "most controversial issue" of planned expansions of I-94 and I-75, according to a statement prepared by the council's executive director, Paul Tait.
The projects have raised increasing concern in recent months. The Washtenaw County Commission passed a resolution opposing the expansion of I-94 early this month, while similar resolutions will be considered by Ferndale, Hazel Park, and Detroit in the coming week.
Opponents fear the project will sever Detroit's New Center area from a recent surge in economic development experienced by the city's downtown and midtown districts. Some are particularly concerned about negative impacts on bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
"The Michigan Department of Transportation plans to remove the rail bridges over I-75 [to accommodate a new I-94 interchange]," Todd Scott of the Michigan trails and Greenways Alliance tells Mode Shift in an e-mail. "It would be a shame if MDOT did that, but the bigger issue is their removal of the Piquette and Ferry Street bridges over I-75."
"After removing these bridges, there will be a mile of impassable expressway," Scott continues. "This will significantly isolate parts of the Milwaukee Junction, Midtown, and Poletown East — something MDOT did to Mexicantown decades ago." This "error" was only recently corrected by construction of the Bagley pedestrian bridge, according to Scott.
"During the non-motorized impact analysis [for the I-94 project], MDOT did not consider the rail corridor," Scott writes. MDOT planners also failed to take into account "the increase in travel times for bicyclists" and "poor bicycling conditions for alternative bridges," Scott adds, calling the analysis "incomplete and unprofessional."
"They also ignored basic traffic laws when considering bicycling impact of the street bridge removals. They assumed bicycles would ride illegally against traffic," Scott concludes.
Upgrades to the I-94 expressway are estimated to cost a total of $2.7 billion. Approximately 20 percent of that amount — about $450 million — will be spent on widening the expressway, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation. Expanding service drives and building longer overpasses is expected to bring that total even higher.
It's an amount which, opponents argue, is money better spent elsewhere.
SEMCOG officials counter that a majority of the project's funding has been dedicated for road projects and, according to state and federal policy, cannot be diverted to transit or other uses. Furthermore, there is "no guarantee that the funding for these two projects, if dropped, would remain in the region," states Tait in a memorandum that will be delivered at the assembly.
Officials did confirm, however, at the council's May 16 Executive Committee meeting, that funds presently directed towards expansion could instead be spent on repairing existing roads.
Dan O'Leary, Supervisor of the Charter Township of Washington (and Chairperson of SEMCOG's Transportation Advisory Council) will present a statement which encourages the General Assembly to adopt the plan, even as it paints an uncertain picture of the region's future roadway needs, both in terms of demand and revenue. According to O'Leary, pavement maintenance costs have more than doubled in the past decade, population growth has slowed, and gas taxes can no longer be counted on to meet long-term funding needs. "Things are different — reality has changed," O'Leary writes. His statement will be delivered at Thursday's meeting.
The Regional Transportation Plan will provide a comprehensive list of SEMCOG's transportation goals, budgeting $36 billion in expenditures tied to future revenue forecasts. The Transportation Improvement Plan is a shorter-term document that prioritizes projects by fiscal year, outlining a total of $3.8 billion in projects, based on available funding.
Continued funding for these projects may be depend on Michigan's efforts to increase annual transportation revenues, including increases in fuel taxes and license fees were that were discussed in Governor Rick Snyder's 2013 State of the State address.
Both the Regional Transportation Plan and the Transportation Improvement Plan were endorsed at a May 16 meeting of SEMCOG's Executive Committee by a vote of 19–6. Delegates from Detroit, Huntington Woods, Port Huron, Superior Township, and Washtenaw County voted in opposition.
Public comment is welcome at the General Assembly, and residents and other stakeholders are encouraged to attend. The event is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m., with an opportunity to comment immediately following an opening address by Wayne County Executive Robert A. Ficano. The Atheneum Suite Hotel is located at 1000 Brush St. in Detroit.
Public comment is welcome at the public meeting. Be sure to attend and tell them what you think.