Payoff 

Sometimes it pays to be paranoid. Take, for example, the Michigan Department of Transportation and its plans for I-94. Last week an MDOT spokesperson told News Hits that the state agency planned to widen only a seven-mile strip of I-94 between Conner and I-96. That was after Karen Kendrick-Hands, president of the grassroots Transportation Riders United, brought to our attention an MDOT document indicating the agency intends to widen I-94 all the way from Wyoming to I-696 — about 20 miles. When News Hits checked it out, a MDOT spokesperson said Kendrick-Hands’ interpretation of the document was inaccurate. Wrong-o!

Andy Zeigler, MDOT’s planer for the metro region, told us this week that the agency does plan to reconstruct the whole 20-mile stretch. Zeigler could not explain why News Hits was, ahem, misinformed. Construction on the first seven miles is scheduled to begin in 2003. It’s not clear when the remainder might be attempted.

The real kicker is that MDOT is currently doing an environmental impact statement on just the seven-mile strip, though federal law requires the agency to evaluate the entire I-94 project from Wyoming to I-696.

“Proposals or parts of proposals which are related to each other closely enough to be, in effect, a single course of action must be evaluated in a single environmental impact statement,” according to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Jim Kirschensteiner, Federal Highway Administration environmental program and field operations engineer, oversees the I-94 project. He says that the state and federal agencies evaluated I-94 from Wyoming to I-696, but are looking at the seven-mile strip in more detail. “You have to start somewhere, and this is a piece that is central to everything,” he says.

But Kendrick-Hands says that the money for the I-94 seven-mile strip — about $1.3 billion, a mere $15.5 million per block— would be better spent on mass transit.

“The $1.3 billion proposal is exactly 10 times the cost to build three commuter rail lines from Detroit to Mt. Clemens, Pontiac and Ann Arbor, complete with trains, track and stations, according to a 1997 MDOT study” says Kendrick-Hands.

As for the misinformation MDOT provided News Hits last week, Kendrick-Hands says that “it deceives the public. It keeps us from realistically appraising the feasibility of moving transit forward and road repair at the same time.”

Public comments on the I-94 project can be submitted through May 11, to Jose A. Lopez, Public Hearings Officer, Michigan Department of Transportation, PO Box 30050, Lansing, MI 48909; fax: 517-373-9255; e-mail lopezjos@mdot.state.mi.us. Copies of the I-94 project can be obtained by contacting Lopez or at www.mdot.state.mi.us/i94rehab/library_body.htm#deis.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or cguyette@metrotimes.com

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