The Complete Case Against Highway Widening in Detroit

Detroit in 1949 versus how it appears today. Images: via Streetsblog
Detroit in 1949 versus today. Images:

Michigan DOT wants to spend $1 billion rebuilding and widening I-75 to Detroit’s sprawling northern suburbs, at the expense of the city and close-in suburbs. Royal Oak, a walkable suburb that borders the city, is not having it.

The City Council passed a resolution unanimously this week officially opposing the widening of I-75 as well as the expansion of I-94. The two highway projects combined would add up to $4 billion in misplaced spending for a region that is badly in need of new strategies.

The text of Royal Oak’s resolution is pretty great [PDF]. It eviscerates the state’s plans and lays out a policy vision that would be great for the region if Michigan DOT ever gets smart enough to change direction.

Take a look:

WHEREAS, communities across the southeast Michigan face an acute shortage of transportation funds to repair existing streets and bridges, address safety needs, and provide the quality of life that attracts and retains residents and employers; and

WHEREAS, within the City of Royal Oak these needs specifically include the repair of existing roads; and

WHEREAS, the Michigan Department of Transportation has approved and intends to commence major highway reconstruction and capacity expansion projects on 1-75 in Oakland County and I-94 in Detroit, with expected costs that may exceed $4 billion dollars, including hundreds of millions for capacity expansion; and

WHEREAS, the 2040 Long-Range Plan states that traffic congestion in southeast Michigan is “limited,” that the region will not regain its 2000 population with the next 25 years, and that any increase in traffic levels will be modest; and

WHEREAS, surveys performed by SEMCOG show that a majority of the region’s residents do not support raising taxes for the purpose of expanding highway capacity; and

WHEREAS, the expansions threaten significant negative impacts to the communities they traverse, including displacement of residents, destruction of local tax base, loss of property value, increases in traffic noise, aggravated air pollution, and continued disinvestment;

WHEREAS, it has been well established that such road expansions provide only temporary relief, while exacerbating traffic congestion in the long run; and

WHEREAS, $4 billion would be far better spent addressing our region’s desperate need for a comprehensive regional transit system to meet the needs of residents; and

WHEREAS, cities across the state are suffering consequences of decades of anti-urban policies, such as freeway expansions, which encourage sprawl while decreasing investment in the very population centers where the majority of residents live; and

WHEREAS, state law dictates that not only must cities and villages suffer the consequences of these policies, but in fact, must bear a portion of the cost of opening, widening, and improving state trunk line highways resulting in further deterioration of existing local infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, SB 557 introduced by State Senator Knollenberg proposed to eliminate the requirement that Royal Oak residents’ tax dollars be redirected to a project that harms our community; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the City Commission of the City of Royal Oak opposes the inclusion of these highway capacity expansion projects in the 2040 Long-Range Plan; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the City Commission especially opposes the proposed Transportation Improvement Project amendments pertaining to the acceleration of the widening of 1-75 between Eight Mile Road and M-59; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Royal Oak City Commission requests that the funding currently programmed for these capacity projects be redirected to other roadway projects, such as performing preventive maintenance and rehabilitating existing major roads, bridges and local streets; addressing critical safety needs; developing and implementing mass transit; and enhancing the overall quality of life through these measures; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the city of Royal Oak will utilize all legal means at its disposal to prevent this expansion from taking place; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the city of Royal Oak supports the passage of SB 557 which, at the very least, would end the requirement that Royal Oak residents fund a project that will bring harm to our city; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, this Resolution shall be transmitted to SEMCOG and its Member Communities, the Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Governor Rick Snyder, and Representative James Townsend and Senator Marty Knollenberg.

That about covers it. The nearby city of Ferndale passed a similar resolution this week.

Will this get the state’s attention, or will it take a lawsuit?


One of Michigan DOT's new principles for its I-94 project in Detroit is to improve walking and biking access on the bridges that cross over the sunken highway. Photo: Google Maps

Highway Planners Pause to Consider the Effect of Road Widening on Detroit Neighborhoods

Standard practice for the highway planners at state DOTs is to sacrifice all other concerns at the altar of fast car traffic. Nowhere has the effect been more obviously detrimental than Detroit, where the overbuilt freeway system helped hollow out one of America's largest cities. But highway planners in Michigan are starting to listen to people who say they want something different.

Detroit Advocates Challenge Michigan DOT’s Highway Expansion Plans

Perhaps you’ve read recently about the city of Detroit’s financial woes. The pensions of public employees are on the chopping block and Detroit may have to sell masterpieces from its art museum as it negotiates bankruptcy proceedings. But the transportation agencies that have saddled Detroit with a sprawling and expensive road system certainly aren’t scrimping. They […]