Stop Detroit's I-94 Boondoggle

Across the country there are countless proposed highway projects, like Detroit's Interstate 94, that are not just expensive — they’re outright boondoggles. As more and more people realize the advantages of driving less, we should invest in a connected and accessible 21st century transportation system instead of wasting funds on newer and wider highways. We need your help to stop these boondoggles.

It's time to shift Michigan’s transportation priorities

In 2014 more people rode public transportation than had in 57 years! In fact, since 1983, there has been a decrease in the percentage of young people getting a driver’s license. A report from the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that from 1983 to 2010, the share of 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds with a license fell from 46 percent to 28 percent and from 69 percent to 46 percent, respectively. Moreover, new technologies and other options, such as bike sharing, are making it easier for people to rely less on cars.

Yet, despite these well-documented changes in transportation trends, our decision makers continue to prioritize new roads and wasteful highway expansions. Meanwhile, other needs — from expanding public transportation to critical bridge repairs — go unmet. At a time when one in nine bridges in America are considered “structurally deficient,” these confused priorities put millions of Americans in danger every single day. 

The Interstate 94 Boondoggle

In Michigan, highway planners are gearing up to spend at least 2.7 billion dollars to widen Interstate 94 through the heart of downtown Detroit. Currently, Interstate 94 runs through and separates the Midtown and New Center neighborhoods. These two central areas are important to the city’s revitalization. They have been leading efforts in boosting arts and culture, retail and commercial space, innovative planning, and promotion of downtown living. Widening the highway would reverse these successes. The widening would include the destruction of 11 pedestrian bridges, 12 commercial buildings, 14 single-family homes, two duplexes, two apartment complexes, and three historic buildings. 

Moreover, the expansion of I-94 comes at a time when the state is making big budget cuts, and struggling to fund repairs to its existing roads and bridges. In fact, the most recent Federal Highway Administration data shows that currently there are at least 1,295 structurally deficient bridges throughout the state in desperate need of repair.

Underlying the justification for expansion are state estimates that the number of miles people travel annually will increase at least 11 percent by 2025, while in fact vehicle miles traveled in the region has decreased by 14 percent as of 2013.

Meanwhile, residents have clearly stated their dissent, saying they “would rather live with current levels of traffic congestion (63 percent) than pay more to reduce traffic congestion (37 percent).” In March 2016, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution unanimously opposing the widening of Interstate 94 and Interstate 75. The resolution specifically mentioned the need to spend the state’s scarce transportation dollars on repair and maintenance of existing roads, as well as expanded service and access to transit for Detroit communities. The resolution further stated that these road expansions threatened communities with increased traffic and air pollution and were part of an anti-urban agenda that divested funds from cities and encouraged sprawl to surrounding areas.
There is no doubt this road is in need of maintenance, but not at the expense of the community. These impacts could be lessened—along with the project’s cost—if state officials opted to rebuild the highway on its existing footprint. 

Michigan’s transportation spending must be done wisely. Instead of spending money on unnecessary and wasteful expansion, the Michigan Department of Transportation should use current funds to resurface and repair existing roads and bridges. This also would provide opportunities to improve Michiganders transportation options by investing in regional projects such as the M-1 Rail Streetcar, the Woodward Rapid Transit, the Ann Arbor Commuter Train, and the Gratiot Rapid Transit

Moving Michigan forward 

Our lives, our communities, and how we get around are constantly changing. It’s well past time for our transportation spending priorities to reflect these changes, rather than the outdated assumptions that so many of them are based upon. We deserve to have a safe, reliable transportation system that offers real options for however people might want to get around. Stopping this highway boondoggle is an important first step for getting us there.

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