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

Michigan DOT has agreed to make a highway expansion project less awful.

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
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

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.

Crain’s Detroit reports that Michigan DOT will conduct a fairly major revision of its more-than-a-decade-old plan to repair and widen Interstate 94 through the city. While the plan still calls for adding lanes, the state will no longer widen the right-of-way through urban neighborhoods.

The project also includes several bridges that carry local streets over I-94. Michigan DOT says that in the revised design, these bridges will include better access for walking and biking.

MDOT spokesperson Rob Morosi told Crain’s:

What we’ve heard is that Detroit has changed. (Now there is) a lot of focus on different modes of transportation. What was approved 10 years ago doesn’t fit into what the city and residents want to see in terms of transportation options.

Michigan DOT is taking a step in the right direction here by making an effort to reduce the negative impact of a highway on city neighborhoods. But make no mistake, the project is still a 7-mile road capacity expansion that will add lanes to make it marginally easier for people to commute by single-occupancy car from distant suburbs. There are far better ways to spend transportation dollars in a region where residents rely on a woefully underfunded transit system.

More recommended reading today: BikePortland reports that Oregon Governor Kate Brown has signed two bills to reduce excessive driving speeds and one to hold motorists accountable when they injure people. And the Urban Edge at Rice University highlights a report from Smart Growth that found complete streets policies are on the rise, but mostly in affluent, whiter areas.

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

  1. I grew up in Metro Detroit and every time I visit family and drive home from the airport, I’m amazed at how little traffic Metro Detroit has relative to other major cities. This expansion will probably shave a couple minutes at most (even with induced demand). But at what expense?

  2. A sunken freeway? Is it feasible to bury it? Best way to mitigate adverse health effects, if the goal is truly to improve pedestrian/cycling facilities along the highway IMHO.

  3. They should be widening the loop roads out in the suburbs.

    And turning a share of the freeways in the city into Bogota-style busways/bikeways.

    The roads are empty, because the city is empty — the city is just a way to drive from one part of the suburbs to another. They can to around.

  4. Why are the widening a highway in a city where the population is shrinking every year? That is the height of stupidity.

  5. My best assumption is that it is tied up with the building of the new “Gordie Howe” boarder crossing bridge.

    Most boarder traffic crosses about 60 miles north on the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron and continue on I-69. Detroit is desperately trying to capture cross-boarder traffic with hope of revitalizing downtown. Spending $1.2 Billion on a boarder crossing bridge without the supporting infrastructure is not a smart thing to do. Then again, building all that infrastructure in hopes of trade related business to revitalize downtown may not be smart either.

    Detroit was once a proud mid-west city. Let’s wish it well and this plan works.

    B.T.Y. Windsor, ON, is doing the same thing with their highway 401 (The highway on the other side of the new bridge).

  6. Indeed. Where are the proposals to at least deck over portions of it.

    And while we are at it reconstruct access ramps to the far more pedestrian-cyclist friendly center loader design.

  7. It’s almost as if highways are “sacred” to some. We deck over rail yards, convert rail ROWs to trails, etc., but don’t even dare to deck the highways or repurpose highway ROWs (e.g. for walking, biking, and transit) – even though such would have a much greater (positive) effect on mobility, communities, and the environment. This mentality must change!

  8. What the highways in Detroit need is either removal or at least sound barriers to mitigate the negative impact they have on the community.

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