Reviews | Stop extending the fucking roads and rethink the future of MI transportation

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Several years ago, I was perplexed by a question from a graduate student. Why, he asked, if we know the climate is changing and roads are unsustainable, did the Michigan Department of Transportation spend $125 million to widen M-23 north of Michigan? ‘Ann Arbor to add an extra lane? A second phase, priced at $146 million, extending to I-96 is being planned. Although supposedly only for peak hours, I have often seen them open on weekends and during the day.

My student’s question could also apply to dozens of other road widening projects throughout the state. Currently, MDOT is spending $1.3 billion on the I-75 Modernization Project, which will add additional transportation lanes, and $269 million on a project to add a “flexible” lane. “a 12-mile segment of I-96 in Oakland County. . The $3 billion reconstruction of I-94 in downtown Detroit is also adding a lane and driving the costs of wider bridges to accommodate it.

Although some of the major highway projects also include the necessary rehabilitations, a large part of their cost corresponds to additional lanes and interchanges to make traffic flow a little easier. These megaprojects are complemented by a myriad of expansions that occur each year, such as the 19 “minor expansion” projects contained in the fiscal year 2023-2026 Transportation Improvement Plan totaling more than $20 million. to add turning lanes, paved shoulders, etc.

Why do we need them if the state’s population has been stable for 20 years and the highways run counter to our state’s sustainability goals?

Of course, the stated reason for them is to reduce congestion, but dozens of studies have shown that enlargements are at best a temporary fix, and always counterproductive in the long run. Roads simply encourage people to drive more through a phenomenon known as induced demand or “generated traffic”. In the longer term, they encourage sprawling development that empties existing communities and gobbles up valuable farm and wild land. A study found that road improvements resulted in a 20% increase in traffic.

Needless to say, located in suburbs and suburbs, away from communities of color, these projects deepen racial inequalities in the provision of infrastructure. Meanwhile, Michigan’s 272,228 households without access to a car struggle with underfunded public transportation to reach everyday destinations like jobs, groceries or doctors’ offices.

What to do with congestion then? Besides expanding public transportation, a route used by cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Dallas, the toll is effective in keeping traffic unavoidable. A potential study of the issue in Michigan has been delayed twice and is expected to move forward.

Isn’t the widespread adoption of electric vehicles imminent, providing the solution to highway carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants? Full fleet electrification and the creation of a fully carbon-neutral power grid will take decades. Brake dust and tire particles will remain major air quality concerns, even in a future of electric vehicles, and highways promote environmentally destructive expansion.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan calls for carbon neutrality by 2050. To follow through, her administration should immediately cancel all road widening and upgrading projects that result in more miles of lane (including HOV and Flex lanes), including capacity enhancement features I-23, I-96 and I-75 projects. This would unlock millions that could be used to meet existing road maintenance needs and free up funds for public transit alternatives.

In many parts of the state, road diets are in order, reducing oversized and underutilized boulevards and arterials. Rural and urban interests should enshrine strict limits in law to curb MDOT’s irrational road-building dogma, to accompany a deep cleanup the agency needs. A recent report by a University of Michigan graduate student identified some low-hanging fruit on how the state legislature and MDOT can act now to invest far more in public transit, simply by taking advantage of the flexibility already allowed by federal law and frequently used elsewhere and repealing postings.

The political winds of change are blowing through our state. State lawmakers and citizens should ask whether the status quo is working. Why should affluent suburbs be given lavish highway projects when so many other transport needs remain neglected? Curbing road construction is essential for a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable state. It’s never too late to do the right thing, and Michigan and its leaders should wake up and act.

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