The Detroit Free Press has run two stories the past 2 weeks about the reconstruction of a segment of Interstate 94 in Detroit. The Stories, I-94 Overhaul Could Begin in 2011 ran on January 20, and A Roadblock Clears for I-94 Progress was published on January 29. These stories are timely as Michigan drivers are getting through the stretch of the year where it may seem as the roads constantly covered in salt, snow and ice, are worsening.. The issue at hand is an area of I-94 between I-96 and Conner in Detroit, which has needed a complete overhaul for a long time. To fix the problems that have arisen on the freeway, MDOT has used small patchwork jobs for the past 10 years or so, costing MDOT 100 million dollars. The actual project to rebuild this segment of road and a few of the overpass bridges in the area has been in the planning stages for almost 20 years, and the 160,000 cars that drive on it each day have just made the problem worse and more urgent.
Like in most issues, the problem comes down to money. For a project that could total 10 years and 1.5 billion dollars of MDOT's resources, this is a massive undertaking. Unfortunately, it has been extremely slow to get off the ground. In 2007, MDOT deferred 65 million dollars of engineering from this project to other issues. To try and start this project, the state has given a green light to the first of 26 pieces of this project that can be done independently of each other and will be done based on the funding available. The first project, the Gratiot Bridge will be reconstructed at a cost of 14 million dollars starting in 2011. MDOT has already allocated 3 million dollars in 2010 to the design of the Gratiot and Van Dyke Bridges. As the Detroit Free Press points out, "moving slowly is better than staying in neutral". Though it is a big step to get the project out of the planning stages and begin actual work, until the state gives the go-a-head for the full project, or a more substantial chunk of it, it is still a big unknown. The State has applied for more Federal Stimulus money for the initial project and should hear if they receive the money in the next few weeks. It seems though that the State is balking at giving any real money to the project and as of yet, MDOT hasn't even identified where the money for Gratiot will come if the Stimulus money doesn't come through. The entire project, though moving slowly, is still a giant question mark.
The Legislature in Lansing is not likely to listen to the needs of I-94. The budget bills in Lansing tend to be passed for the short term, especially in terms of these transportation issues. Lansing seems to rather spend about 10 million dollars a year on the "band-aid" patch projects on the freeway to keep it functional than commit to spending 10 times as much annually on the same project. This project is not of the same importance as say, higher education in the eyes of Legislators.
The impact of these two Free Press articles will likely be minute. MDOT's budget is massive already as they do their best to fix roads throughout the state that are damaged by the same heavy traffic and poor weather conditions as I-94. According to MDOT, their 2007 budget was over 3 billion dollars combined between State and Federal money (MDOT Citizens Guide). With a budget that big, it is a shame that this project has had trouble getting off the ground, having been overlooked in favor of many other overhauls in the Detroit Area. Perhaps the slow beginning of this project will shift focus to the larger project and encourage Legislators to support the allocation of funds for its completion.
Raising Taxes and Fees to Fund Roadwork/Overhaul of I-94