New Study: Traffic Data Does Not Support Spending on Edsel Ford Expressway

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Report calls highway an example of waste, based on outdated assumptions

PIRGIM Education Fund

A new national report identifies state plans to widen Interstate 94 through Detroit as one of 11 examples of wasteful highway spending based on its outdated assumptions. The study finds that the $2.7 billion project is based on old forecasts of traffic trends that have proven badly in error. The study calls for the state to consider reprioritizing scarce transportation dollars to other projects.

“Americans have been driving less, but Michigan and the federal government are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects that are based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Phineas Baxandall, a co-author of the report. “The time has come to shift transportation resources toward repairing our existing roads and investing in a wider range of transportation choices.”

“In a region whose population has not grown in over thirty years, it is wasteful to spend billions of dollars to add additional lanes to our roadways,” said Megan Owens, Executive Director of Transportation Riders United. “While I-94 certainly needs to be repaired, tearing out pedestrian bridges and widening this throughway is unnecessary and wrong for our community.”

The report, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasteful Money and America’s Transportation Future,” describes how the state’s proposal to widen the Edsel Ford Expressway is based on original forecasts in 2003 that vehicle miles travelled in the region would increase 11 percent by 2025. Instead, these miles had already fallen 14 percent by 2013. The report similarly outlines how traffic counts on roadways show traffic consistently declining.

The report does not contest that major roadwork is needed to restore the I-94 route between Midtown and New Center neighborhoods. The report instead argues that there is no justification for Michigan highway planners’ proposal to add an additional highway lane in each direction and new parallel service roads.

“The plan to widen I-94 is likely to increase traffic volumes, congestion, and air pollution over the long term in a city where adult asthma rates are more than twice as high as the state average, and which contains 5 of the top 25 most polluted ZIP codes in Michigan. The state’s fifth-most polluted ZIP code, 48211, is located at the center of the I-94 project corridor,” said Nick Schroeck, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

With limited resources dedicated to repair, Michigan has 11,022 bridges that engineers have deemed “structurally deficient,” according to the most recent (2013) National Bridge Inventory tabulated by the Federal Highway Administration (See “All Bridges” linked here).

“That’s 11 thousand reasons not to waste Michigan tax dollars on widening I-94 through Detroit,” said Baxandall.

According to Owens, “Just three percent of the cost of the I-94 widening would be enough to build and operate the long-proposed commuter train between Detroit, Metro Airport, and Ann Arbor, providing a real alternative to I-94.”

In addition, the I-94 widening project would require demolishing or displacing a couple dozen homes and businesses, such as the city’s oldest recording studio, and would eliminate 11 pedestrian bridges that currently connect the midtown and New Center neighborhoods. Numerous local organizations, businesses, institutions, and individuals have spoken out in opposition to the widening project and urged Michigan Department of Transportation to drastically scale back the project to acknowledge transportation trends and better support the local community.

The report can be found here.