While Michigan lawmakers continue to collectively sit on their hands over the critical issue of road funding — including the pressing need to resurface highways across the state — the Michigan Department of Transportation is advancing a $2.7 billion unnecessary and wasteful project to widen a short stretch of I-94 in Detroit based on traffic data from over a dozen years ago.
A report released this month from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund (Public Interest Research Group), titled Highway Boondoggles, Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future, cites the I-94 widening project as among the most needless in the nation. The report calls for state and federal decision-makers to reevaluate it, along with ten other pointless projects.
“With the Federal Highway Trust Fund on life support, states struggling to meet basic infrastructure needs, and growing demands for investment in public transportation and other non-driving forms of transportation, America does not have the luxury of wasting tens of billions of dollars on new highways of questionable value.”
Among the states, Michigan ranks dead-last in per capita highway funding, so dollars spent there must be put to the best possible use. One need only possess a driver’s license, a car and a brain to know the top priority should be fixing the crumbling roads. Michigan residents bear an estimated $7.7 billion annually in costs related to poor road conditions in the form of vehicle maintenance, lost time and wasted fuel. Detroit motorists shell-out a whopping $1,600 per year due to road problems across the city.
With over a third of Michigan roads that receive federal funding being in disrepair, throwing-away money on a $2.7 billion boondoggle is criminally irresponsible.
Despite a marked decline in traffic volume, and in Detroit’s population, Michigan highway planners continue to cite useless 2002-03 data to buttress the I-94 expansion as necessary — predicting an increase in traffic volume of over 11 percent by 2025. Instead, the road area in question has seen a 14 percent decrease in traffic over time. Using 2012 numbers, the PIRG report shows that traffic volume is significantly down from the year 2000 along the stretch of I-94 slated for expansion.
The report goes on to assert that the seven mile-long expansion will likely hinder the Motor City’s economic recovery by making it “more difficult by further separating two neighborhoods that have been leading the city’s revitalization”.
Midtown and New Center neighborhoods have been key to the rebirth of Detroit. Growth in cultural arts, commercial and retail development, along with innovative planning — like the recently launched $140 million streetcar project — will be put in jeopardy by bisecting these newly flourishing meccas. Under the MDOT plan, eleven bridges linking the neighborhoods would be removed, causing pedestrians and bicycle riders to travel an additional six blocks just to cross the road.
In late 2012, The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments conducted a survey of Detroit-area residents finding they reported no vexing problems with traffic jams, and they “would rather live with current levels of congestion (63 percent) than pay more to reduce traffic congestion (37 percent).” A wiser use of the federal funds would be to resurface crumbling roads which would have a positive impact on the wallets of Motor City commuters — saving them at least a portion of the $1,600 they sacrifice to pot holes every year.
Additionally, expanding I-94 will not alleviate the flooding issues that recently plagued the city. Those were the result of another infrastructure problem — MDOT reports that 58 percent of its pump houses are in poor condition, 20 percent are in fair shape, and only 22 percent are operating at optimal level. Of the 165 pump houses across the state, 139 are located in the metro-Detroit area.
A widened I-94 will only make a wider river to forge after the next downpour.