Suspicious minds

Mar 28, 2001 at 12:00 am

Call ’em paranoid kooks. But when it comes to the Michigan Department of Transportation — and its plans to “improve” I-94 — they say something stinks. And it’s not merely the $1.3 billion MDOT wants to spend on the seven-mile strip between Conner and I-96 that has critics’ eyebrows raised. They suspect — and for good reason — that MDOT has more in store for the old freeway than it is letting on. According to MDOT’s “Five Year Road and Bridge Program,” a 104-page booklet released last week, I-94 improvements could span from southwest Detroit to Macomb County.

“That could be as much as $3.3 billion,” says Karen Kendrick-Hands, president of Transportation Riders United, a grassroots organization that supports mass transit and opposes the I-94 project.

According to the MDOT document, the seven-mile strip between Conner and I-96 is “the first phase of a larger project” to refurbish I-94 between Wyoming and I-696 — about 20 miles.

If this is MDOT’s plan, says Kendrick-Hands, its current study of the seven-mile strip along I-94 is not only a waste of the public’s time and money, but is illegal. MDOT has been working on an environmental impact study of the seven-mile strip to determine how the expanded highway — and the noise and pollution it will create — will affect the area. But Kendrick-Hands says that if MDOT plans to expand the highway beyond the seven-mile stretch, it is legally required to study the impact the entire project may have on the area, not just a portion of it.

“They have to address the impact all at once and they are not doing that and that’s illegal,” she says.

Kelly Thayer, Land Use Institute transportation project coordinator and critic of MDOT’s I-94 plan, agrees. He also says that if MDOT expands I-94 beyond the seven-mile stretch, the agency is also required to look at alternatives like mass transit to solve congestion problems.

But MDOT spokesperson Brenda Peek says that the state agency does not intend to expand I-94 beyond the seven-mile strip. She says that the MDOT booklet was referring to plans to refurbish the 33 bridges between Wyoming and I-696 and patch up the road, work that is currently under way.

But Kendrick-Hands is not so sure.

“They know if they told the public about all the project at once, you could not get the public’s approval,” she says.

Time will tell. Let’s just hope by then it’s not too late.

Meanwhile, MDOT has granted a 45-day extension for public comment on the I-94 plan for the seven-mile strip. Send all comments to Jose A. Lopez, Public Hearings Officer, at PO Box 30050, Lansing, MI 48909 or call 517-373-9534.

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