Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I-94 expansion critics put MDOT in spin mode

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 1:20 PM

A blog post this morning from the Michigan Department of Transportation this morning on why nearly $2 billion should be spent reconstructing I-94 between Conner Avenue and I-96 gave us pause.

The 6.7-mile stretch between Conner Avenue and I-96 would be widened one lane in each direction and continuous service drives would be implemented, easing congestion on the highway and making the road safer, MDOT says. From the post:

Recently, the project to rebuild and modernize a 6.7-mile section of I-94 in Detroit has come under scrutiny. Much of the criticism is targeted at adding a lane in each direction to the existing freeway between Conner Avenue and I-96. Some feel the added capacity is not necessary, while others feel the cost of the project should be diverted to other modes of transportation.

Now, if you want to better understand some of the concerns offered by critics of the project, a story we ran last year serves as an all-around primer. (Let's just say arguments against the project go a bit deeper than downplaying the need for additional capacity.) Officials from MDOT and SEMCOG have long scoffed at the notion funding can simply be diverted into another "silo," as I believe outgoing SEMCOG Chairman Paul Tait described the idea. That's ridiculous -- nay, impossible -- they say.

That so? Plenty would argue our regional public transportation system is a mess. Plenty also recognize how much of a problem blight is in Detroit. So, what'd the federal government do last summer? It green-lighted an unprecedented blight removal program, using funds originally allocated for another "silo" entirely.

Michigan has won approval to spend $100 million in federal funds to demolish thousands of vacant homes in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Pontiac and Saginaw.

The U.S. Treasury on Thursday signed off on a proposal -- the first of its kind in the nation -- that will allow the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to create a blight elimination program using federal money originally set aside for mortgage relief.

Transit planners bemoan the lack of funds to boot public transit resources, as well as our roads themselves. It's probably an easier answer for officials to shoot down critics of the project that call for the I-94 reconstruction funding to be diverted into a bus rapid transit or light rail project. But perhaps with some creative thinking those funds could be repurposed into a public transit project.

Imagine that: an efficient system that actually pulls motorists off the road, easing congestion along I-94. Jesus, that sounds crazy.

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