Earlier this summer, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, SEMCOG, adopted something called the "2040 Regional Transportation Plan." It's a roadmap, essentially, of how to spend $36 billion over the next 30 years to improve transportation in Southeast Michigan.
Of all the proposed improvements in this plan, the most controversial has been the renovation and expansion of I-94 and I-75. The price tag to expand and renovate these Detroit-area freeways is around $4 billion.
But critics say the proposals, especially the I-94 project, would force neighbors to pay a different price.
“We have no problem with the repairing and rebuilding of that highway because it certainly is old, but the reality is our population as a region is not growing, the number of miles we’re traveling is not growing, we can barely afford to maintain the roads we have,” said Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United. “It really doesn’t make sense to be spending so much money to widen the highways and add more lane miles. That money would be much better spent on repairing the roads we have or looking at transportation alternatives.”
According to Owens, research has shown that widening highways does not alleviate traffic jams because creating more lanes invites more people to utilize them.
Additionally, the expansion would tear out pedestrian bridges, homes, a school, and even a Detroit Motown landmark.
“There were some very successful and popular neighborhoods back in the 20s, 30s, and 40s that ended up being completely devastated and ultimately destroyed by having highways plowed right through the middle of them,” said Owens. “That ended up really just spurring further development farther and farther out, and enabling a lot of the sprawl and the paving over of green spaces.”
But not everyone sees the expansions as a bad thing. Rob Morosi of the Michigan Department of Transportation thinks it will be worthwhile.
“We need to really modernize the freeway, lengthen, create acceleration, deceleration lanes, improve mobility, but, more importantly, improve safety,” he said.
Besides more lanes and extended acceleration and deceleration lanes, the modernization also involves new overpasses, bike lanes, sidewalks, widened shoulders, and left-lane exits replaced with standard right-lane ones.
“This is not simply about just bringing people from point A to point B on the freeway,” said Morosi. “I think when you really boil this project down to the nitty-gritty, you are going to see just as many if not more benefits for the local community than you would for the freeway drivers themselves.”
The timetable for this project is not set yet, but it is targeted to begin in late 2016 or 2017.
-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom
Listen to the full interview above.