Voice Your Opinion at Oct. 10 Public Hearings on the Widening of I-94

For many years, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has proposed adding lanes and expanding I-94 through the central city. TRU has pushed back against this proposed project for 18 years, since TRU’s earliest days.

MDOT has released a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for I-94. MDOT states the new proposed alternatives have a smaller footprint and will involve less displacement than the previous proposed design. This is certainly a major improvement, and shows responsiveness to public comments. 

A diagram of the new proposed bridge design from the SEIS.

Pedestrian crossings in the new design have changed to surface level complete streets crossings. The new style of crossings include bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and narrower lanes for cars. Previously, the design used pedestrian-only bridges with long approaches (i.e. those big spirals or ramps you have to go up). With this new proposed alternative, pedestrians and mobility aid users no longer have to schlep up an incline. The removal of long approaches to these bridges also means there will be less displacement–they will not need to take properties to build the bridge ramps anymore.

A diagram of the new proposed cross section, with added lanes fit into what is now the side berm.

Additionally, the new design adds lanes to 94 by cutting into the berms along the sides of the freeway, instead of adding to the roadway’s overall width.

The historic United Sound Systems building on Second.

However, some drawbacks remain. The transit section of the SEIS is noticeably light, clocking in at a slim 2.5 paragraphs. FAST bus is not mentioned, nor is the possibility of Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter rail. The transit discussion in the SEIS largely focuses on the possibility that wider highways could theoretically let bus service using those highways go faster, nevermind that most routes run through neighborhoods. There is no discussion of robust transit as something that could lighten traffic, move people, and lessen the “need” for car and highway space.

Additionally, the future of the historic United Sound Systems building remains unclear. The current alternative proposes moving USS onto the adjacent parking lot north of it, and demolishing the adjacent house that has functioned as a sound buffer for decades. While this is much, much better than losing the structure entirely, it has the potential to render this recording studio useless for recording music. Retaining both of these buildings would be the strongest choice. The portions of the SEIS I have read thus far do not really dig into the climate impact of the energy-intensive process of demolishing and then permanently landfilling existing buildings, despite demolitions proposed along Second, Antoinette, Rivard, and elsewhere. I was pleased to see that demolitions in the 4th Street neighborhood appear to no longer be on the table.

We are glad to see significant improvements and significant reworking in response to public and City of Detroit feedback. However, the expense and effort going into this project is formidable, considering MDOT’s lack of investment in transit alternatives. Abundant, well-resourced public transportation would do much more to deal with both traffic and climate impacts than added capacity to a freeway ever could. We hope to see robust transit alternatives funded throughout the construction disruption and beyond.

Public Hearing Locations and Times:

There will be two hearings: at the Detroit Historical Museum (Woodward and Kirby) at 11:30 am, and at the WCCCD Eastern Campus (Conner at I-94) at 6:30 pm. See MDOT’s post about it for more information here.

If you can’t make a public hearing, you can still e-mail your comments to MDOT-I94Comments@Michigan.gov.