I-75 widening in Detroit suburbs makes national list of highway boondoggles

The $1 billion project would exacerbate sprawl and harm communities

PIRGIM Education Fund

DETROIT — The Detroit area suffers from costly sprawl, poorly maintained roads and bridges, and a woefully inadequate transit system. Yet according to a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, Michigan is still planning to spend $1 billion to expand Interstate 75 through suburban Oakland County, north of Detroit — a project that is both unnecessary and will exacerbate the region’s problems.

“To improve the Detroit area’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Transportation Campaign director. “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

For Southeast Michigan, spending $1 billion on highway expansion — and the sprawl it will promote — will make it harder to pay for necessary transportation priorities. Through 2045, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) estimates the region needs to spend $20.9 billion on transit, but will have only $9.2 billion available. SEMCOG also notes that estimated spending through 2045 will “not be sufficient to restore Southeast Michigan pavement to a state of good repair.”

Michigan’s argument for the highway is, in part, that Oakland County residential development is too dispersed to support a high level of transit service. But building more roads will inevitably encourage more sprawl, which will require additional roads in the future. By contrast, investing in more transit options and supporting transit-oriented development could lead to less dispersed neighborhoods that would support greater transit use over time.

“Sometimes it’s the infrastructure we don’t build that makes all the difference,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “Cities from Dallas to Tampa to Milwaukee have discovered that ditching boondoggle highway projects has opened up new opportunities to build stronger, cleaner and more fiscally sustainable communities.”

The report recommends that Michigan cancel the I-75 expansion and other proposed highway expansion projects, and instead invest in more effective solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion.  


“Michigan, like the rest of America, still has a misplaced appetite for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. But if we’re smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars, Detroit can achieve a more sustainable, affordable and better-functioning transportation system,” said Casale. “That means avoiding spending billions of dollars on harmful, wasteful projects like the I-75 widening.”