Build It Bigger: A 20th Century Solution To A 21st Century Challenge

Source: Conan Smith

DETROIT—On Thursday, at SEMCOG's General Assembly, metro leaders will vote on the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, setting the course for $36 billion in investments in our network of roads, bridges and transit. It is grounded in a solid vision of a sustainable region slowly recovering from economic turmoil. Two massive projects, however, stand out as incompatible with interests articulated by the region's residents and the data that should be driving decision-making. These projects, conceived in the last century, deserve a second look before we rush into a costly error.

As part of a larger (and more justifiable) investment in I-94 and I-75, the plan proposes to widen portions of those highways by a lane in each direction and add a network of service lanes. The footprint of the highways grows enough to require numerous neighborhood homes and businesses to be moved or destroyed, including the oldest recording studio in the Motown, the place where Marvin Gaye recorded his iconic protest song, "What's Going On?"

In response to periodic congestion on these highways, SEMCOG proposes to make them bigger. Widening a highway has been the region's traditional "demand management" response, and it is distinctly a 20th century solution. It is a response that has resulted in ours being the only major metropolitan area in the nation without a comprehensive transit system to serve commuters. It is a response that has facilitated massive outmigration from our core city, helping to exacerbate the concentration of poverty that underpins Detroit's current economic struggles. It is a response that looks to the past rather than the future and offers our region, essentially, more of the same.

These projects fly in the face of SEMCOG's own data. Analysts don't see the population or employment figures returning to 2000 levels in the next 25 years. Growth in regional travel is expected to be marginal. Residents themselves express a disheartening depression about the future vision for our transportation system. Most say the roads aren't good, and they think they will probably get worse. Most say our transit system sucks and will stay that way.

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