I-94, I-75 Projects Up For Amendment

A possible acceleration of the I-94 and I-75 expressway renovations will be on the agenda of the Executive Committee of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments this Friday when they convene at their headquarters in Detroit.

The planned roadwork is slated to take place along a 6.7 mile corridor of I-94 between I-96 and Connor in Detroit and a stretch of I-75 between 8 Mile and M-59 in Oakland County. Public debate over the renovations has been contentious; this is in no small part, because the Michigan Department of Transportation wants to widen sections of both expressways, an undertaking that is unpopular with some local stakeholders.

In June, the organzation's general assembly, composed of representatives from different governmental institutions in the region, voted to approve the two freeway projects as part of their short-term and long-term transportation plans for the region. MDOT needed SEMCOG's approval for the efforts, since the highway construction is federally funded.

Though SEMCOG's transportation plan passed by a solid margin, opponents of I-94 and I-75 provisions made a strong showing at their summer meeting. They criticized the plan during a lengthy public comment period, charging that the reconstructions would increase pollution, stifle development in Detroit, inconvenience non-motorized travelers by removing pedestrian bridges and demolish a school and a historic sound studio, while doing little to reduce traffic in the long term.

MDOT maintains that the renovations are long overdue for safety reasons and will help the regional economy. Since that time, they have reached out to critics and asked stakeholders continued to share their thoughts on the project.

Rob Morosi, a spokesperson for the agency, told Mode Shift back in September that MDOT was interested in finding a workable arrangement that would address some of the concerns about the the I-94 and I-75 renovations.

“Judging from comments at the general assembly this summer, there’s agreement on 80 percent of the project,” he said. “Everyone’s in agreement that I-94 needs to be rebuilt. MDOT and the stakeholders community have agreement on 80 percent. Let’s find common ground on the 20 percent that’s the sticking point.”

The agency also has changes of its own in mind. In September, MDOT announced its intentions to speed up the timeline for both projects from roughly twenty years to as little as five. It's also put together a series of several dozen amendments to the plan, which will be presented to SEMCOG's Executive Committee Dec. 6.

These measures, a total of 69 additions, changes or deletions to SEMCOG's short term tranportation plan, would pave the way for construction to begin on I-75 between Square Lake to Adams Road and an I-75/I-696 interchange. MDOT has already started working on I-94's bridges in a piecemeal fashion. The amendments also include provisions to hire staff and acquire right-of-way land for the projects. A complete list of the proposed changes can be found on SEMCOG's website.

As with SEMCOG's summer assembly, Friday's meeting promises to be a lively one. Although MDOT has been reaching out to the public, it has not quelled discontent over the project.

On Monday, Royal Oak's City Commission approved a resolution that called on SEMCOG to quash any acceleration of plans to expand I-75, which passes through their city, and exclude both expressway widenings from its long-term regional transportation plan, redirecting funds to other road projects. The resolution objects to the project on the grounds that it could lead to "displacement of residents, destruction of local tax base, loss of property value, increases in traffic noise, aggravated air pollution, and continued disinvestment" in their city.

This week, a coalition of citizens and groups opposed to MDOT's I-94 renovation plans also announced they had submitted a formal request to MDOT and the federal highway administration for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the project. Although a Final EIS was approved for the project by the federal government in 2004, the group says its outdated and that further study of environmental and environmental justice concerns is needed. If accepted, their request could temporarily halt any construction of the project.

SEMCOG's executive committee will consider MDOT's amendments this Friday at a 1 p.m. meeting at 1001 Woodward, Suite 1400.

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