With Widening of I-75, Michigan DOT Will Deliver Another Blow to Detroit

The widening and reconstruction of I-75 north of Detroit will cost $1 billion and take 14 years. Photo: Wikipedia
The widening and reconstruction of I-75 north of Detroit will cost $1 billion and take 14 years. Photo: Wikipedia

The city of Detroit lost a stunning 25 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010. Even as the city struggles heroically to repair the damage, the Michigan state government is undermining Detroit’s fragile recovery.

Leave it to Michigan DOT to come in and make Detroit’s problems worse. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the state DOT wants to pour $1 billion into the widening and reconstruction of 17 miles of I-75 north of the city, serving residents of the region’s affluent, racially segregated far northern suburbs.

Everyone agrees the highway needs to get repaired, but widening it is a different matter. A bigger road will siphon residents and economic activity from the city and close-in suburbs. Transit riders, environmental groups, and representatives of inner ring suburbs are protesting that the project will fuel sprawl, squander resources, and lead to more inequality.

Pushing for the project are suburbs that have benefitted from the exodus from Detroit, gaining jobs and businesses even as the regional population has flatlined.

Brooks Patterson, executive of wealthy, suburban Oakland County, is a leading supporter. Patterson, who famously cheered that “your sprawl is my economic development,” has referred to I-75 as the county’s “Main Street.” He told the Free Press the project would boost quality of life in his community by easing congestion and promoting economic development. Officials from the sprawling suburb of Troy are also big supporters.

Since the 1950s, as Detroit’s population has declined 60 percent, Oakland County has been a big beneficiary. Its population tripled, leading a Bloomberg headline to declare in 2013: “Detroit is Dead. Long Live Oakland County.”

But there is strong resistance from communities that border Detroit, like the walkable, inner-ring suburb of Royal Oak. City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc told the Free Press he’s planning to present legislation that would assert Royal Oak’s official opposition to the widening. The city will be on the hook for $4.3 million of the project costs, despite the negative impacts widening will have on the community.

DuBuc says the city will consider legal action to stop the widening. “This is the wrong thing to do with our tax dollars,” he told the Free Press. “More concrete, more freeways — this is crazy. We’re going to pay for people to drive past Royal Oak?”

Meanwhile, the mayor of nearby Madison Heights says he’s going to ask his city council to pass similar legislation. These communities are caught in a zero sum game, since the Detroit metro area has a stagnant population. If one area grows, another shrinks.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who came into office talking a good game about the importance of cities, has done nothing to stop his DOT from further hollowing out the Detroit region with this project.

Michigan DOT spokesperson Rob Morosi has publicly dismissed concerns that the project will induce driving, hurt transit, and waste resources that would be better spent elsewhere.

MDOT originally tried to justify the project by claiming that traffic on the freeway will increase an astronomical 9 percent annually. But traffic on I-75 at Gardenia, in the middle of the project area, declined 15 percent between 2004 and 2010.

Traffic counts were actually down between 2004 ang 2010 at I-75 and Gardenia, right smack in the middle of the project. Images: SEMCOG via Jimmy McBroom
Traffic counts were actually down between 2004 and 2010 at I-75 and Gardenia, right smack in the middle of the project. Images: SEMCOG via Jimmy McBroom

MDOT has since said it was mistaken and is now projecting cumulative 10 percent growth over the next 25 years. (Nine percent annual growth would mean a 860 percent cumulative change over the same period.)

Michigan DOT is perfectly comfortable evangelizing for the freeway project, but Morosi draws the line at expressing support for a regional transit levy expected to be on the ballot this year. Voters will be asked to decide on a sales tax measure that would provide relief to Detroiters who’ve been waiting desperately for better transit. On that issue, Morosi says, “It’s not MDOT’s job to tell people how to vote.”

13 thoughts on With Widening of I-75, Michigan DOT Will Deliver Another Blow to Detroit

  1. MDOT is still very out of touch. The management sees itself as primary a roads agency, mostly concerned with the state owned roads. Their chief concern is getting the maximum amount of federal funding. If a project is eligible for funding that’s reason enough for it to built.

  2. They could expand transit, fix flint’s water system (expected to cost about $1 billion as well), improve neighborhoods in Detroit. pay down Detroit’s pension debt or Invest the money in maintenance of the existing roads. There are endless ways to better spend $1 billion.

  3. Isn’t this the same state which is unable to provide clean drinking water to a certain city. Honestly, priorities. Now I suppose this water issue has only come to light recently, and this project has been in the works for a while. But it really puts it in stark contrast.

  4. So once they corrected the estimate from 860% to 10% cumulative growth, I can only assume they are in the process of cancelling the proposal.

  5. As newer generation of people move into actual cities & leave the spread out-automobile dependent suburbs & exurbs Detroit it’s self, like other old strategically located cities will become ever more appealing.

    The suburbs North of Detroit, although some are quite nice do not & never will have what the inner core of Detroit has.

    Detroit is now poised more & more to attract affluent people from the world over.

    A historical center, a art & cultural center. A downtown. A riverfront across from Canada. Islands & a deep water river.

  6. Only rebuilding the freeway should be done. The population & crowds should move to Detroit & takeover.

    Stop complaining about Detroit & make it your city.

  7. Wow, that is incredibly stupid. Access to the northern suburbs is already pretty fast. My mom commutes to downtown via M-10 (the lodge) and traffic is minimal. 30 minutes to go 20 miles during rush hour. Yah, I-75 from 8 mile to Pontiac is fine. It doesn’t need another lane. You sometimes get some stop-and-go traffic, but that’s really it!

    “Oakland County Commissioner Wade Fleming, R-Troy, whose district includes Clawson, most of Troy and a portion of Royal Oak, supports the project. Fleming is also a former Troy City Council member.

    “You certainly need it because if you’re ever on I-75 at rush hour, you know it’s a stalemate out there,” he said. “I-75 has certainly been in need of repair and expansion for at least the last 10 years.”

    I call bullshit. This guy is a Republican yet he’s ok spending “other people’s money” for his pet cause. So typical. This is the same Troy that did this:


    [That’s right, they rejected federal funds for a necessary transit center. Of course, that Tea Party mayor was recalled (for complaining that the “queers can get married now”) and the city chamber of commerce pushed hard and got the transit center fixed, but FFS, we aren’t even talking about removing free parking or taking away a lane of traffic]

    They don’t have the funds to renovate the interchange with M-59 yet we need to expand lanes? Please, come spend some time on the FDR, BQE or try to enter the Holland tunnel during the morning rush if you want to see some real traffic.

  8. Additionally, the northern suburbs utterly lack downtowns. Outside of generally small portions of Royal Oak, Farmington, Ferndale and Birmingham (which, is really expensive and nice!), you don’t have downtowns, you don’t have medium to high density, what you have is spaced out land, under occupancy office/commercial parks and reliance upon the automobile. No way should they be spending money to unnecessarily shuttle people out further North. If you can afford to live in Troy, then you can afford a mansion in Indian Village + $$$ for private school.

  9. As someone who drives I75 in Oakland County on a fairly regular basis I say if L, Brooks thinks this is such as good idea then let Oakland County pay for it.

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