Hearings on I-75: Widening debate

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While many Oakland County politicians and I-75 users say the artery must be widened to alleviate congestion and accidents, others are trying to persuade transportation officials to consider alternatives to pouring more pavement.

That includes regional mass transportation – buses and rail lines connecting Detroit and the suburbs.

"I would suggest that every option that can be dreamed up be implemented before we start making bigger and longer highways," said Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin at a public hearing in Madison Heights last Thursday.

Barwin and others said increased air pollution and sprawl could be avoided if public officials worked to create public transportation. They spoke last week at three public hearings, held as part of a $400,000 study by Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Oakland County Road Commission and the Traffic Improvement Association of Oakland County. The study is to determine how to improve state and local roads within the county’s I-75 corridor between Eight Mile Road and Holly’s northern border.

"We need to end the congestion," said State Rep. Robert Gosselin, R-Troy, who at the Troy public hearing advocated adding two lanes each way on I-75. Citing county statistics, Gosselin says I-75 traffic in Troy increased 20 percent between 1991 and 1997, and that the number of accidents in the area has also risen.

Correcting the problem won’t be cheap. David Wresinski, manager of MDOT’s project planning section, said this week that a very rough estimate for any road work would be at least $2.5 million per mile, but that the true costs won’t be known until the study is much further along.

In Madison Heights, Stephen Hands of Grosse Pointe said commuter rail would be a better way to ease traffic on I-75. Hands, co-founder of the coalition Transportation Riders United, pulled out a copy of a 1997 study by SEMCOG and the Michigan Department of Transportation which laid plans for a three-route commuter rail system that would move people back and forth from Detroit to Pontiac, Mt. Clemens and Ann Arbor.

The I-75 study, being done by the Louisville-based Corradino Group, began in June and is expected to take 18 months. Along with public hearings, it includes interviews with elected and appointed officials from communities along the I-75 corridor. More public hearings to unveil possible solutions for I-75’s problems are planned for December.

Meanwhile, public transportation advocates are gearing up for MDOT’s public hearing Thursday, Aug. 26, on plans to retool I-375 in downtown Detroit for easier access to the Renaissance Center and casinos. They fear that plans to build less than a mile of four-lane freeway in the right of way of an existing rail line at St. Aubin would thwart future plans for regional rail transportation. That hearing is scheduled for 5-8:30 p.m. at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit.

To comment on the I-75 issue, call toll free 1-877-GO FIX 75. For more information on Transportation Riders United, call 313-885-7588.

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