Off track 

Oh, the horror. The nonsense. The foolishness. As you guessed, News Hits has yet another bug up its proverbial bottom. This time it’s over the Michigan Department of Transportation’s plan to spend at least $72 million of your money — of your money (and ours, now that we think of it) — to "improve" access to the east riverfront by "upgrading" I-375. Last week MDOT held a public hearing on the issue at a downtown church where about 60 or so people milled around during the first of two sessions inspecting this great "boondoggle," as one critic appropriately called it.

Well, News Hits inspected the maps, saw the slide show and read MDOT’s skimpy report. And we left pondering this question: Who does this plan serve? Let’s see. There’s General Motors and, there’s, well, General Motors. (Oh, yes, the casinos will also be served. But MDOT made no mention of this since our chubby-cheeked Gov. Engler insists that not one state dime is to go toward Detroit casinos.)

The other ass-burner is how MDOT attempted to convince parishioners, who hosted the hearing at Christ Church Hall on East Jefferson, that this project is merely about the 30 to 50 church parking spaces that the I-375 expansion will do away with. MDOT assured churchgoers that it will help find them ample parking elsewhere. (Don’t hold your breath.) Well, believers and nonbelievers, you can bet that there is much more to this project than MDOT is letting on.

If I-375 is expanded, current traffic congestion will be pushed to the riverfront, the not-so-pedestrian-friendly area will be even less pedestrian-friendly, and any chance of starting up the old commuter train rail that used to run from Detroit to Pontiac could be doomed. At least that’s Karen Kendrick-Hands’ take on it. Kendrick-Hands is a co-founder of Transportation Riders United (TRU), which supports mass transit; TRU held a meeting of its own during the MDOT hearing. Kendrick-Hands explained that expanding I-375 to the river will destroy the tail end of the track. This is major considering that $2.5 billion of taxpayer money will be spent to upgrade about 11 miles of I-94 and about 45 miles of I-75, according to Kendrick-Hands. But the commuter rail will cost only $130 million to refurbish and $24 million annually to run. Don’t be derailed, let MDOT know what you think. Mail, write, fax or e-mail comments by Dec. 11 to: José A. López, Public Hearings Officer, Bureau of Transportation Planning, Michigan Dept. of Transportation, P.O. Box 30050, Lansing, MI 48909. Fax: 517-373-9255, e-mail: [email protected].

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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