$36B transit plan includes widening of I-75, I-94By Marlon A. Walker, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
After tense debate over projects that would add lanes to I-75 in Oakland County and I-94 in Detroit, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ general assembly adopted its $36-billion transit plan for the region that includes funding for the expansion projects.
The 2040 Regional Transportation Plan calls for reconstructing I-75 between 8 Mile and M-59 in Oakland County and I-94 from Conner to I-96 in Detroit, adding one lane in each direction and improving interchanges. The I-94 project includes bridges over the interstate for Van Dyke and Gratiot, which will be finished this year and next year, respectively, at a cost of $2.7 billion in federal and state bonds. The I-75 project will be completed in seven segments, the last of which is expected to be complete by 2033, at a cost of $1.3 billion in federal funds.
About two dozen residents voiced their displeasure over the I-75 and I-94 projects.
Detroit Councilman Gary Brown, who is a member of the assembly, at one point sought an amendment to send the two projects back to a committee, but that amendment failed.
The projects are among about 1,000 in the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which will spend $36 billion in federal, state and local sources through 2040 on projects across southeast Michigan.
“We start looking at a forecast of where the population is going to be, where the jobs are going to be, where the activity center is going to be,” said Paul Tait, SEMCOG’s executive director. “We use that and we forecast what the likely travel is on our roads. We want to build our roads not too small because we have to tear them up and add lanes later and we don’t want them too big where we’re wasting taxpayer dollars. It’s in that context over the next 25-plus years that the I-94 and I-75 projects are occurring.”
SEMCOG spokeswoman Sue Stetler said it took at least a year for site work, modeling and environmental testing, among other things, to get the plan ready for the general assembly, made up of representatives from the 158 member communities across seven counties SEMCOG covers.
Before the meeting, about three dozen residents gathered outside the Atheneum Hotel in Greektown where the meeting was held and carried signs and chanted against the reconstruction projects. Joel Batterman, of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), said widening would mean the loss of more than 50 homes in Detroit, Hazel Park and Madison Heights.
“We feel like that’s something we can’t afford, both in dollar terms and in terms of the people that would be displaced and the communities that would be disrupted,” said Batterman, whose organization was among those who organized the rally. “It doesn’t make sense when we can’t maintain the roaads we already have, let alone new ones.”
Jeffrey Jenks, a Huntington Woods city commissioner, said the widening of the freeways would help keep truck traffic off surface streets, something he says will be needed once a new bridge to Canada is built.
A plan to rework the ramps at the Lodge freeway and I-75 will make it easier for motorists to navigate the interchange.
“I think it’s good for the region,” Jenks said.
Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, said she was not surprised the plan was approved but was disappointed.
“It’s wasteful spending. Our population is not growing. The number of miles we’re driving is not growing. Why is our highway system growing?”
This story originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press on June 20, 2013 and is available here: http://www.freep.com/article/20130620/NEWS05/306200113/I-75-I-94-widening-SEMCOG-interstates