Road overkill

Comments by Michigan House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi) urging House Transportation Committee Chairman Phil LaJoy (R-Canton) to hold additional hearings regarding Michigan’s road plan are drawing fire from a prominent Michigan public advocacy group and Ferndale’s city manager.

DeRoche wants to hold more hearings in outlying areas such as Canton, Grand Rapids and Waterford. Why?

“We need to build roads where people live, work and pay their taxes,” LaRoche said in a press release. “Fixing roads where people used to live, or where we want them to live will only delay projects which will contribute to economic growth and an improved quality of life for Michigan residents.”

In other words, screw Detroit and the older suburbs surrounding it.

Not everyone is so enthused about the idea. Take Hans Voss, executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute, a Michigan smart-growth advocacy group.

DeRoche’s outlook “represents an antiquated view of economic investment and road building that has led us down a bad road with respect to suburban sprawl,” Voss says.

“The application of building new roads while letting our existing infrastructure deteriorate is not only an ‘old school’ strategy — the sheer economic cost to taxpayers is unsustainable,” Voss says.

Given the present state of metro Detroit’s crumbling infrastructure, with its potholed roads and snarled traffic, the idea of spending extra money to expand roads and highways on the outer parts of the region strikes Voss as inappropriate. Voss notes: “You can’t build your way out of traffic congestion.”

Although DeRoche and LaJoy are both Republicans, party politics aren’t the issue, Voss says. “It’s not a question of ideology, it’s a question of investment,” he adds.

Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin, who has 20 years of experience in city management in such places as Warren, St. Clair Shores and Troy, is likewise less than enthusiastic about DeRoche’s initiative. Barwin, instead, advocates what he calls a “fix it first” concept.

“The course we’re following with never-ending road expansion is unsustainable,” he says. “Expanding roads and freeways is just the wrong way to go.”

One of the potential changes in the state Department of Transportation’s five-year plan, for example, is a proposed expansion of I-75. Work, Barwin says, could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars — both to expand the route by three lanes and expand the “feeder” roads. “We’re looking at multiple years of construction,” he says. “Let’s look for some more creative ways to fix that.”

The solution? “A light rail line from Detroit to Pontiac,” Barwin says. “In the global economy, you have to attract residents by investment … by having a good quality of life and amenities.”

Send comments to [email protected]