highways

For more than a century now, Detroit has been the Motor City: Home of the auto industry; the place that put the world on wheels.

You know that. You also probably know that as a result, Detroit utterly failed to build any kind of decent mass transit.

Other, that is, than a system of badly serviced city buses that don’t even coordinate with the suburban ones. The city is paying for that now, as thousands of adults who lack cars have no easy way to get to jobs in the suburbs. Belatedly, there are efforts to get a rapid transit bus system. There’s also the M1 light-rail project in the city, but these are partial solutions at best.

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I-96 will open tomorrow (Monday, September 22), more than two weeks ahead of schedule.  The stretch was closed between Telegraph and Newburgh Roads in Livonia. The announcement was made today as Governor Rick Snyder and others gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and walk on the freeway. I-96 was closed in April to allow crews to reconstruct the 7-mile stretch. Crews rebuilt 56 miles of freeway, repaired 37 bridges, and reconstructed 26 ramps. The project area runs through Redford Township and Livonia. 

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So there you are, driving to and from work or school every day.

Chances are, there's probably a stretch of highway you drive that seems particularly soul-numbing and doesn't let you get any sense of place or community.

If you could design a highway, what would it look like? And could it improve, rather than just carve up your city?

That's the idea behind Highways for Habitats, a contest being run by the Michigan Municipal League's Let's Save Michigan Initiative.

Sarah Szurpicki is a project coordinator with the Let's Save Michigan Initiative, and she's been involved in many efforts to revitalize cities in the Great Lakes region. She joins us today to discuss the contest that would allow drivers to play transportation planner. 

Listen to full interview above. 

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It's a safe bet you've experienced the congestion on I-94 or I-75.

It can get pretty bad during rush hour and it impacts thousands of people.

But is widening the highways worth the $4 billion cost estimate? Some people are saying no.

According to Khalil AlHajal at MLive, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is meeting today to go over those highway proposals among others.

The meeting is at 4:30 pm at the Atheneum Suite Hotel in Greektown.

If you’ve driven on any Metro Detroit’s major highways recently, you may have spent some time in the dark.

That’s because the region’s highways have been plagued by some recurring power outages.

The outages have hit most major highways in and around the city, especially portions of I-94 and I-96.

In some cases, whole stretches of highway have repeatedly gone completely dark.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi said MDOT has removed some streetlights because they were old and unsound, and lost others to accidents.

But Morosi says the bigger issue is thieves who target transformer cabinets beside the highways, particularly for their copper wire--which can be sold for scrap.

“And we’re seeing an increase in copper theft in and around the metro Detroit area, and most of these lighting outages can be attributed to that theft,” Morosi said.

Morosi says MDOT is trying to fix the problems, but funding is tight and repairs are expensive.

“At this point in time, funding is an issue for this department,” Morosi said. “Infrastructure investment is obviously something we’re keeping a close eye on, and we’re hoping something can be done in Lansing.”

MDOT officials also hope proposed legislation to crack down on scrapyards will help out.

Morosi says it’s difficult to put a price tag on fixing the problem because “it’s such a moving target.”

Nearly all major freeways have been affected, and Morosi estimates as many as 20 percent of the freeway lights around Metro Detroit aren’t working for one reason or another.

Some bikers have been riding without helmets since a law requiring them was repealed in April.
user ivandub / Flickr

The group that led the charge to repeal Michigan’s motorcycle helmet requirement says the state has not suffered a rash of biker deaths in the past six months.

That is how long it has been since the law was changed.

American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) point to state data between January and the end of August.

But state officials say it is really too early to tell what the effect has been.

Anne Readett of the state’s Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) said the data is provisional and incomplete.

“We, in our office, are not going to speculate one way or the other until we know that we have final data to look at,” she said.

The OHSP did release up-to-date numbers showing biker deaths slightly up since last year. The department also said there has been a 14 percent increase in incapacitating injuries.

Readett said they won’t be able to reach any good conclusions until at least spring, when they analyze the entire year.

More money for Michigan transportation projects?
user theed17 / wikimedia commons

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced today it will make available $473 million in road funds to states with pending transportation projects.

In a press release, U.S. Department of Transportation said the money comes from unspent earmarks from FY 2003-2006.

Effective today, state departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.

The Detroit News reports Michigan has $15.8 million in 28 projects that hasn't been spent that the state can redirect.

"It will be up to Michigan how to decide to spend their money," LaHood said.

State departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway money, some of which is nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.

The Obama Administration wants the money spent soon. To use the funds, states must identify projects by October 1, and must obligate them by December 31, 2012.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

AAA Michigan predicts state highways will be busy on Memorial Day.     The automobile club’s survey shows one point one million Michiganders plan to travel during the 5 day holiday period, 91% by car.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan saw an increase in the number of traffic deaths in 2010.  It was the first increase in 7 years. 

According to a new report, 936 people died on Michigan roads last year.   That’s an 8% increase over 2009.

Traffic fatalities have been declining in Michigan since the early 2000’s when more than a thousand people were dying each year in car crashes. 

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a case where a woman wants to sue the state for injuries she suffered while riding on a state-maintained off-road trail. The question before the Michigan Supreme Court is whether a forest trail is also a highway?

Beverly Duffy and some friends were riding All-Terrain Vehicles on the Little Manistee Trail. Duffy’s ATV struck some half buried boards in the trail, throwing her from the vehicle. She suffered spinal injuries and paralysis. She sued, claiming the State Department of Natural Resources failed to maintain the trail for all licensed vehicles, as required by state law.

The law applies to state maintained ‘highways.’ The state contends the off-road trail is not a ‘highway’ as defined by state law.   

The trial judge sided with Duffy, but the state Appeals Court ruled in the state’s favor.

user Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

(You can also see this story with more photos on the Changing Gears website)

Half a century after cities across our region and country built sprawling freeways, many of those roads are reaching the end of their useful lives.

Instead of rebuilding them, a growing number of cities are thinking about, or actively, removing them. That may come as a surprise.

When Clevelanders hear that the city plans to convert a coastal freeway into a slower, tree-lined boulevard, you get reactions like this one from Judie Vegh:

“I think it’s a pretty bad idea for commuters,” she said. “And if it were 35 mph, I would just be later than usual.”

Within the next few years, Vegh’s commute on Cleveland’s West Shoreway will likely look very different.

Cleveland City Planner Bob Brown says this is not the traditional highway project, "the traditional highway project is obviously speeding things up, adding more capacity, and often ignoring the character of neighborhoods."

It’s quite a change.

In the 1950s and 60s, freeways were seen as progress and modernity. They were part of urban renewal and planners like New York’s Robert Moses tore through neighborhoods to put up hulking steel and concrete roadways.

Today, cities are looking to take them down.

The list is long:

  • New Orleans
  • New Haven
  • Buffalo
  • Syracuse
  • San Francisco

These are just some US cities thinking about or actively taking freeways down. You can find more information about these projects on the Changing Gears website.