transportation

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Are you ready to let your car do the driving?

Once we thought of the self-driving car as something from science fiction. But technological breakthroughs have been coming at ever-increasing speeds.

Google expects its driverless car will be ready for consumers in the next 3-5 years. GM thinks intelligent vehicles will be on the roads by 2020. Ford predicts 2025.

And researchers at the University of Michigan are making sure the Great Lakes State is front-and-center in developing and testing the connected vehicle technology that is essential to the self-driving car.

The director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Dr. Peter Sweatman, and Richard Wallace, the director of Transportation Systems Analysis for the Center for Automotive Research, joined us today to talk about the future of transportation.

Listen to the full interview above.

Colorful used cars
Zelda Richardson

A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that Americans who drive light-duty vehicles (cars, SUVS, pick-up trucks, and vans) don't drive as far as they used to. 

The study, from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (MTRI), was published this month, and looks at national driving trends from 1984-2011. 

According to MTRI's findings, the distance people drove peaked in 2004. Distances were evaluated based on how much a person, a licensed driver, a household and a registered vehicle traveled. 

The major takeaway from the study is that because distances decreased before the 2008 recession, the lower numbers weren't a result of a short-term issue. Essentially, the lower distances driven seem to be a part of a longer term trend. 

Michigan's next Senator Gary Peters.
U.S. Representative Gary Peters

A half-dozen major transportation infrastructure projects are in the works for southeast Michigan, and Congressman Gary Peters wants to make sure local workers get the jobs that come along with them.

Peters convened a transportation jobs summit to push that objective Monday.

“If we’re bringing federal money into the state of Michigan, I want people from the state of Michigan working on those projects," said Peters. "And if the project is in the city of Detroit, then I want Detroiters working on those projects.”

Peters says those federal funds often come tied to thousands of local employment opportunities—but that doesn’t always work out.

Flickr

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.

Cyclists will descend on Detroit for the 11th Annual Tour de Troit on Saturday.
Brian Stoeckel

Students across Michigan hopped on their bikes this morning, in celebration of the country’s second annual Bike to School Day. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, more than 80 Michigan schools geared up for the two-wheeled holiday, up from 45 schools in 2012.



Bike to School Day rolls around just days after the League of American Bicyclists released their report on the most bike-friendly states in the country. Michigan earned a spot in the top twenty, falling in 12th place on the group’s survey. In the Midwest region, Michigan was ranked fourth.

Ifmuth / Flickr

Each week we talk Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants. Today we talk about transportation funding. Governor Snyder has called for $1.2 billion to address roads and transportation in Michigan, but there's no agreement in the legislature about how to get the money.

Plus, people are filing taxes and starting to feel the impact of some of the changes in the Michigan tax code, which includes the reduction in the Earned Income Tax Credit. Now a coalition is calling for the EITC to be restored, and Democrats in the House and Senate agree. What's next for the EITC?

And, as the Detroit City Council plans to appeal Governor Snyder’s decision to appointment an emergency financial manager for the city they are doing so without the support of Mayor Dave Bing who says it’s a fight they can’t win. Is he right?

user ka_tate / Flickr

As the Obama Administration began making its case against 'the sequester' - the mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts that were never supposed to happen - delays at airports was one of the big issues they highlighted.

Here's Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a press conference on Feb. 22, where he said more than $600 million will have to come out of the Federal Aviation Administration budget.

So what will this mean at Detroit Metro?

LaHood said the majority of FAA employees will be furloughed for one to two days per pay period.

Michael Martinez writes for the Detroit News that airport officials don't expect cuts this month, but they do expect them next month:

Business group raises $6.4M for Detroit lighting

Mar 3, 2013
Flickr user Molly Des Jardin

A private business group has stepped up with $6.4 million to do what struggling Detroit couldn't - restore working street lights along a 2.3 mile thoroughfare on the city's southwest side.

The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid.
Ford Motor Company

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

The auto industry seems to be coming back to life, but there does not seem to be much buzz surrounding alternative energy vehicles, and that's being reflected in sales.

January figures were anemic at best for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

The Obama Administration predicted a million electric cars would be on our highways by 2015.

Today there are barely 30,000.

Just why aren't these vehicles catching on with the public?

And is there anything the automakers can do to make those EVs and plug-ins more appealing?

Cindy talked with Sean McAlinden, Executive VP of Research and Chief Economist at the Center for Auto Research, and David Shepardson, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit News.

user amtrak_russ / Flickr

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

More and more of us not just here in Michigan, but across the nation, are traveling by train and turning to Amtrak.

Its trains carried 31.2 million passengers in its fiscal year that ended last September.

Here in Michigan, a record-setting 793,000 people traveled on Amtrak's three routes, bringing in all-time high revenues of $27.8 million in Michigan.

What's behind our growing affection for the train?

Adie Tomar is a researcher with the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

He joined us from Washington.

The Detroit News / Twitter

Update 4:22 p.m.

Traffic is flowing again on Interstate 75 near Detroit in both directions. Crews have cleared the roads after white out conditions led to multiple collisions along the interstate. At least three people were killed.  

1:53 p.m.

Traffic is flowing again on northbound Interstate 75 while authorities clear the remaining vehicles that crashed in a sudden snow squall on the south side of the expressway and claimed at least three lives.

At least half a dozen semi-trucks along with other damaged vehicles are still waiting to be moved. Crews are working to clean up a spill of diesel fuel from the crash.

 State police say the south side of I-75 could be cleared by the afternoon rush hour.

1:04 p.m.

As is the nature of these events, we're getting revised numbers from the Michigan State Police on the number killed in the accident. They now say three people have died, including two children.

12:00 p.m.

Southbound I-75 near Detroit could be closed for some time today. WDIV-TV is reporting clean-up of the crash will take 12-16 hours.

The Detroit Free Press has this first hand account from a driver caught in the crash:

11:41 a.m.

We're hearing the following information on the crash this morning:

  • Four  Three deaths are reported and 15 to 20 people have been transported to local hospitals. No one remains trapped in damaged vehicles.
  • There were 15 vehicles involved in accidents spread out over a mile stretch. The Michigan State Police spokesman said accidents occurred in 'pockets.' He blamed white out conditions for vehicles failing to stop in time.
  • Dozens of undamaged vehicles remain in the accident zone. Those vehicles will be moved as the accident scenes are cleared.

You can watch live coverage of the crash scene from WDIV-TV.

11:07 a.m.

The Detroit News reports the massive pileup has closed southbound I-75 in Detroit and that emergency responders are on the scene.

More from the Detroit News:

The accident scene is reportedly from Springwells to Schaeffer Highway. Emergency crews are evaluating the scene for a potential fuel spill.

Preliminary reports suggest the crash is fatal. Michigan State Police, EMS and the Detroit Fire Department are on the scene. A warming bus also has been requested.

"What we have heard so far is an unconfirmed report that there was a crash shortly after 9 a.m., and that there were chain reaction crashes after that," said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi. "Multiple police, fire and EMS responders are making their way to the scene. We are doing everything we can to help them reach the crash site."

10:53 a.m.

WDIV-TV is reporting on a crash along I-75 in Detroit this morning. The Detroit News tweets the crash and back-up is over a mile long.

A massive crash involving more than a dozen cars has closed portions of I-75 in Detroit.

The northbound lanes are closed at Schaefer.
The southbound lanes are closed at Springwells.

Local 4 spoke with several drivers at the scene who were able to get out of their cars safely and get off the interstate. They said white-out weather conditions made it very hard to see and contributed to the chain-reaction crash.

WDIV has pictures of the pile up here.

M-1 Rail Detroit

You can say one thing about the backers of the M-1 light rail project in Detroit, they're persistent.

The on-again, off-again federal funding of the project is now on-again, according to reports from the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.

The Freep reports U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to visit Detroit next week with $25 million for the light rail project along 3.3 miles of Woodward Avenue.

The rail line is proposed between downtown Detroit and New Center.

Kansas company has deal to buy Ann Arbor Railroad

Dec 30, 2012

A Kansas-based company says it has a deal to buy the short line Michigan rail company Ann Arbor Railroad Inc.

Pittsburg, Kan.-based Watco Companies LLC says the deal awaits approval from the Surface Transportation Board, which is expected in late January or early February.

The Ann Arbor Railroad serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, areas, mainly shipping auto and other manufacturing goods. It operates 50 miles of track between Ann Arbor and Toledo and has Toledo-area terminals serving General Motors Co., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co.

Stateside: Mass transit a possible option for the state

Dec 19, 2012
screen grab from YouTube video

Michigan’s  Regional Transit Authority will attempt to redesign travel throughout the state.

Adie Tomer, a Senior Research Associate at the Brookings Institution, says implementing a mass transit system in Detroit is entirely possible. Tomer says the state has put spending highway infrastructure ahead of spending on mass transit.

"One of the consequences of building out so many highways… is an underinvestment relative to those highway miles for public transit. In many ways, this left Detroit as one of the few cities without a major mass transit system," said Tomer.

Stateside: Regional transit authority faces big roadblocks

Nov 29, 2012
A DDOT bus in Detroit. People have been talking about the need for a regional transit authority for many years.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate recently passed a bill to create an authority for Detroit and surrounding counties to operate its own transit system.

However, the bill faces significant hurdles in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry and Daniel Howes of the Detroit News addressed the various obstacles the bill must overcome.

The bill is decades in the making and has wide support throughout Michigan, but Howes says the reason it has not yet passed is due to a history of control issues.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A special task force starts work this week to try to come up with a plan to better spend state tax dollars to fix Michigan’s roads.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is spending about a billion dollars building and repairing the state’s roads this year.

But to keep pace with what’s needed to just maintain the state’s infrastructure, its estimated Michigan would need to spend $1.4 billion.

State Senator Roger Kahn wonders if that money is being spent efficiently enough.

A DDOT bus in Detroit. People have been talking about the need for a regional transit authority for many years.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Southeast Michigan county, business, and community leaders seem to agree; the region needs a transit authority to attract businesses and young talent.

Testimony at a House transportation committee hearing overwhelmingly supported bills to create an authority.

John Hertel is the general manager of the SMART transit system. He said this is the first time in four decades he’s seen this level of agreement between the city of Detroit and its suburbs.

"I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s wonderful to see. But while it’s there, we need to strike and move forward. This kind of thing obviously doesn’t come along very often," said Hertel.

Hertel said he’s not yet confident the Legislature will pass the plan.

Robert Daddow spoke on behalf of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. He’s confident the bills will pass.

"The governor has pressed this for some period of time, has been actively working in the coordination between the units – Detroit, Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw - in trying to get an agreement together. And we’re very, very close, if not right there, right now," said Daddow.

State officials have tried many times to establish a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan.

Some supporters are skeptical it can get out of the legislature. Others worry about possible legal challenges if it does pass.

Cyclists will descend on Detroit for the 11th Annual Tour de Troit on Saturday.
Brian Stoeckel

"Cyclists, meet the City of Detroit."

That's basically the goal of Tour de Troit, an event happening this Saturday. That's when thousands of cyclists will take over the streets of Detroit and discover the pleasures of big-city biking during a thirty-mile ride.

Bill Lusa is the director of Tour de Troit.

Cyndy talked to Lusa about what's happening this Saturday?

This year the streets are completely closed to automobile traffic throughout the route, giving participants the opportunity to ride streets freely with other bicyclists Lusa said.

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.

Cecelia Cichan shows a tattoo of an airplane she has on her wrist. She speaks about being the sole survivor of the crash of NW flight 255 out of Detroit in a documentary. WDIV aired clips of that documentary.
screen shot / WDIV

At 4 years old, she was the sole survivor of one of the worst aviation disasters in U.S. history.

On August 16, 1987, one hundred and fifty-six people were killed when Northwest Flight 255 out of Detroit Metro Airport did not put out its wing flaps and slats, which resulted in dangerously low altitude on takeoff.

The plane clipped a light pole, then a building, and crashed to the ground at about 8:46 p.m. killing all of the crew and passengers except for 4-year-old Cecelia Cichan from Tempe, Arizona.

Don Coles / AerialPics.com

Harsens Island is known as a laid-back retirement-and-vacation community in Lake St. Clair. About 1200 people live there year-round, and that number grows to 5,000 during the summer months.

In order to visit the island you can take your own boat or you can take Champion’s Auto Ferry. But people who live there may not be able to take the ferry in the near future because the company’s owner wants to retire, and since the ferry service is a private business, it’s not clear whose responsible when it comes to maintaining service.

Two days ago, a beaming Gov. Rick Snyder opened the annual conference of our state?s economic and political elites on an upbeat note. He cited the official themes the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce set for their annual Mackinac Conference. "Innovation, Collaboration and the Twenty-First Century Global Marketplace." Those are things he himself is all about.

Whether you agree with his positions or not, this governor wants what he thinks are rational policies aimed at giving this state a future. But the morning after his triumphant welcome, the governor had to again admit defeat over an issue that shouldn't even be an issue: Road funding. Too many Michigan roads are in poor shape, and a whole lot more are rapidly getting worse. Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Transportation estimated ninety per cent of our roads are in good or fair condition, which seemed too high to me.

But the state also calculated that unless we start investing far more heavily in our roads, only 44 percent will be in acceptable shape a mere eight years from now. That would be a disaster.

railroad tracks
Ian Britton / creative commons

A strike by Canadian railway workers threatens to slow or shut down production at some U.S. auto plants.

5,000 Canadian Pacific Railway workers walked off the job early Wednesday because of a dispute with management over a new contract.

Large numbers of finished vehicles and auto parts come to U.S. factories via Canadian Pacific.

Ford and General Motors say they don't expect the strike to affect production - at this time.

Chrysler says it is actively working to mitigate any impact to its operations through alternative shipment methods, such as trucks.

The longer the strike goes, the greater the chance it could affect the U.S. auto industry.  The Canadian Labor Ministry says it has the authority to intervene and will do that if the two sides haven't reached a deal by Monday.

S.S. Badger
Bill McChesney / Flickr

The Lake Michigan car ferry S.S. Badger started what could be its final sailing season today.

The historic ship burns coal as its fuel and dumps the leftover coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The EPA has said the ship needs to stop this practice. They've given the owners until the end of this year to come up with a solution, but the owners want more time.

Dave Alexander of MLive reported on a press conference held by the ship's owners this morning:

Before the 9:15 a.m. departure from its Ludington dock for the four-hour trip across a lumpy Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wis., Lake Michigan Carferry co-owner Bob Manglitz announced his company has made application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue its coal ash dumping practices another five years.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on legislation in the U.S. House that "would allow the Badger to continue to dump coal ash because it's been nominated as a national historic landmark." She reports environmental groups are fighting against the designation.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new federal transportation funding bill.

The last funding bill expired in 2009.   Congress has passed a series of extensions of the old law since then.  

A coalition of Michigan environmental groups and unions say the ongoing delay is hurting state roads.

Mark Schauer is the head of the BlueGreen Alliance.   The former Michigan congressman says the state’s roads are deteriorating, in part, because Congress can’t agree on a new six year federal transportation spending plan.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that had to replace a tire as a result of hitting a huge pothole," says Schauer.

Michigan Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton are on the special House-Senate conference committee working on the transportation bill. A spokeswoman for the committee says discussions continue with hopes of reaching an agreement before the deadline at the end of next month. 

MDOT

As part of the work on the "Gateway Project," the Michigan Department of Transportation opened an access road that will move truck traffic coming from Canada over the Ambassador Bridge directly on to nearby highways.

Prior to the road opening, trucks had to drive on secondary streets in southwest Detroit to get to the highways.

The Detroit Free Press reports the road opened yesterday, and a ceremony for the opening is planned for today.

The Detroit News reports the opening comes 5 days ahead of schedule, but because of the legal battles around the Gateway Project, the road opening is really years behind schedule.

In actuality, the opening of the access road comes about four years behind schedule because of protracted legal battles between MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Co. over the $230 million Gateway Project.

When completely finished, the project will remove up to 10,000 trucks a day from secondary streets in southwest Detroit and move them directly to and from the Ambassador Bridge plaza to nearby freeways.

The project was supposed to be a partnership between MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Company, but a judge found the DIBC to be in civil contempt of court after the company didn't follow the judge's orders to complete the project.

On March 8, the judge ordered the DIBC to cede control of its portion of the project and ordered MDOT to complete the remaining work.

MDOT says 95 percent of the new truck route is completed, and about 20 percent of the overall project is completed. When will it be finished? MDOT says their goal is to be done with the project "within a year and hopefully much sooner."

Here's MDOT's take on the overall project:

Travel and Leisure magazine

You gotta give them a lot of clicks to find the ranking on their page (can someone say pageviews!), but once you finally get there, you'll see that readers of Travel and Leisure ranked Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) as the 3rd best airport in the country.

Detroit’s airport is at the top of its game, ranked No. 1 in terminal cleanliness, design, location, lounges, and business centers. It came in third for service and staff communication and fourth in baggage handling. As Delta’s second largest hub and the carrier’s primary gateway for Asia, that’s no mean feat. The airport fell short only when it came to public transportation options—not surprising considering you’ve landed in the Motor City.

Viable public transport to Detroit Metro has always been a problem. Some are making attempts to improve the situation.

Just recently, the public transportation system in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, announced a partnership with a private company, Michigan Flyer, to provide cheaper transit to the airport.

Twelve bucks will get you from A2 to DTW. That's better than a typical $40 to $50 cab ride.

The best airport named by readers was Minneapolis (MSP)... the worst was New York's LaGuardia (LGA) - JFK and Newark airports also ranked poorly.

Sound about right to you?

screen grab from YouTube video

Back in December, it seemed a 3-mile light rail project in Detroit along Woodward Avenue was put on the scrap heap when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood raised doubts that Detroit could pay the operating costs for the proposed line.

In discussions, Detroit Mayor Bing, Gov. Snyder, and LaHood opted for a rapid bus system instead.

But as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek has been reporting, private investors who were backing the light rail project pushed back on the bus idea.

Now the Detroit Free Press reports the M-1 Rail Group says they'll put up the money to run the system for the first 10 years.

The M-1 Rail Group outlined the details in a report it has sent to the federal government. The group of private investors and philanthropic groups behind the effort said they would commit to paying the estimated $5.1 million annual cost of operating the Woodward rail line through 2025.

After the first ten years, the group says they would donate the system "to the appropriate agency, such as a regional transit authority that Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature are working to create for southeast Michigan..."

On Earth Day, turning the Motor City into "Cycle City"

Apr 20, 2012
courtesy Detroit Tigers

Let’s face it: Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is unshakeable. But it’s gaining ground as a city for cyclists.

Flickr user alicegop

Here's another reason to pay your parking tickets: Your driver's license could be blocked.

A Michigan law kicking in on May 16 says three unpaid parking tickets can prevent renewal of a license. The current threshold is six.

Local governments notify the secretary of state when someone has too many unpaid parking tickets, although some communities are more aggressive than others. Birmingham in suburban Detroit turns unpaid tickets over to a collection agency.

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