The Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features conversations with transportation experts inside and outside MDOT and will touch on anything and everything related to mobility, including rail, transit and the development of connected and automated vehicles.
In the year 2045, what will transportation look like in Michigan?
On this edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Brad Sharlow, point person on MDOT’s state long-range transportation plan, talks about the extensive engagement and public involvement involved in the process.
Michigan Mobility 2045, or MM2045, is the department’s ambitious project to look into a big crystal ball and see what our needs will be and how mobility will factor into how we live, work and play.
Some ways MM2045 helps Michigan residents:
- Demonstrates how to get there so that the public can understand decision-making and hold transportation agencies accountable to their commitments.
- Explores how additional revenue will grow Michigan’s economy, advance equity, adapt to climate change, and improve health and quality of life today and into the future.
Sharlow explains that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this transportation plan included an expansive outreach and public involvement process utilizing a variety of new methods. He also says MM2045 is the first state long-range transportation plan in the country to fully integrate state freight and rail plans into a combined long-range transportation plan. In addition, MM2045 incorporates Michigan’s first active transportation plan and statewide transit strategy.
As noted with recent heavy rains and flooding in Metro Detroit, Sharlow also talks about the plan’s discussion of the need to prepare the system to be more resilient, redundant, and technology-ready.
Among other findings, the pandemic has accelerated ongoing trends toward urbanization, more-flexible travel patterns, e-commerce, and changes in the supply chain. While Michigan’s vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels, passenger travel and freight patterns may look quite different than they did pre-pandemic.
Also noted: Michigan’s aging population. By 2045, Michigan’s age 65-and-older population is expected to increase significantly, accounting for the bulk of the state’s 7 percent projected growth. To age in place independently, older Michiganders will need access to on-demand paratransit service, rides to medical appointments, walkable communities, and other alternatives to driving. In part due to aging but also in part to generational preferences and urbanization, the number of households without a vehicle is projected to bump up from 7.9 percent to 9.1 percent in 2045, with increases across all regions of the state.
Reopening a major freeway after a tanker fire
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation, a conversation with Adam Wayne, a construction engineer in the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Metro Region, who is helping coordinate repairs to I-75 in the wake of a massive tanker crash and fire July 12.
The tanker, carrying 13,000 gallons of fuel, crashed into a barrier wall on I-75 in Troy, igniting a fire that closed both sides of the freeway, scorching the highway and median.
Wayne explains the process for evaluating the damage to pavement after an incident of this magnitude and why most freeway lanes will be closed for several days.
He also talks about how fire and extreme heat cause the water in concrete to turn to steam, causing extensive damage in a short amount of time, as illustrated in this 2019 Popular Mechanics story and video. As the surface takes on a soft, chalky consistency, it turns to dust.
The crash occurred on a segment of I-75 that was essentially brand new pavement, part of a major modernization of the freeway across Oakland County.
As police continue the investigation into the cause of the crash, there is a process for recovery from insurance companies for any crash that involves damage to state-owned infrastructure. The protocol calls for MDOT to compile expenses from incident response, cleanup and eventual repair. These expenses are from MDOT and any local or other state agencies that participate.
A bill signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019 amended the Insurance Code to allow access to the full amount of insurance coverage, up to $5 million, for damages to property by vehicles subject to federal insurance requirements. The bill allows the state to recover more money in damages if a motorist is found at fault for infrastructure damages.
More bond sales fuel Rebuilding Michigan
A year after the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) sold the first group, or tranche, of bonds in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's $3.5 billion Rebuilding Michigan plan, the finance team is preparing to sell another $800 million worth in August.
First, Patrick McCarthy, director of MDOT's Bureau of Finance, explains why the market has reacted so favorably to the sale of bonds to repair the state's crumbling roads and bridges. In a second segment, Brad Wieferich, director of MDOT's Bureau of Development, talks about the favorable bids for many of the projects and how the construction industry has reacted.
After the Michigan State Transportation Commission authorized the bond sale in January 2020, Gov. Whitmer joined the podcast to talk about the Rebuilding Michigan plan and the decision to sell the bonds.
In this week's first segment, McCarthy said a second round of $800 million in bonds will go on the market in August and independent analysts are projecting they will sell at a premium, just as the first round did a year earlier. The Bond Buyer reported on that first bond sale in August 2020, observing that while the pandemic diminished recent collections of pledged revenues, the state's sturdy coverage ratios provided a cushion to endure the fiscal storm.
"Michigan's state trunkline bonds are not susceptible to immediate material credit risks related to coronavirus because of strong coverage of debt service and limits on additional leverage," Moody's said at the time. "The longer-term impact will depend on both the severity and duration of the crisis."
Moody's also underscored that the lack of investment has taken a severe toll on the state's transportation assets.
A March 2021 Government Finance Officers Association primer outlined the role tax-exempt bonds play in infrastructure financings and as an investment product.
For those reasons and because of MDOT's solid track record managing finances, both bond offerings are generating a premium, meaning they are very attractive to investors, McCarthy says.
He also talks about the department's successful refunding of $68 million in 2011 State Trunkline Fund bonds, which saved the state nearly $20 million.
In the second segment, Wieferich talks about the opportunities the Rebuilding Michigan plan offered to accelerate a number of projects that could not be supported financially for several more years.
He also explains the design process, what's involved in preparing projects for contractor bids, and why, so far, most projects have come in under engineers' estimates.
As Wieferich notes, having more investment up front allows for rebuilding roads and bridges that would otherwise be resurfaced or repaired as stop-gap measures. In the long run, rebuilding rather than repairing, saves taxpayers money in ongoing maintenance. It also saves drivers time and money in commuting and commercial carriers who rely on the freeways to get goods to market on tight schedules.
Rethinking a Detroit freeway and honoring the past
On the latest Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about the ongoing process to rethink the 1-mile I-375 freeway in Detroit and consider other alternatives.
First, Margaret Barondess, manager of the environmental section at the Michigan Department Transportation, talks about the ongoing discussions that could reconnect neighborhoods near downtown Detroit, severed decades ago when I-375 was built. She recounts the history and environmental justice issues shaping the current discussion.
Later, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist joins the podcast to offer his perspective on the project as a native of Detroit and someone who spent part of his childhood in the neighborhood previously disrupted by the freeway.
While discussions about restoring the I-375 corridor to an urban boulevard date back several years, the conversation has added resonance because U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has put an emphasis on connectivity and rethinking freeways.
In the wake of another catastrophic rainstorm that caused flooding across the Detroit area, Barondess explains the history behind building recessed freeways and the benefits: keeping the city street system intact, needing less property for the right of way, and limiting the noise in neighborhoods.
During his segment, the lieutenant governor talks about what he learned from his parents and others about the residents and businesses displaced by the freeway in the Blackbottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods. He explains why he’s pleased that the Biden administration wants to create equitable communities and restore opportunities for prosperity. He recounts the wealth lost in what was one of the most thriving black business districts in the country.
The Detroit News (subscription) https://www.detroitnews.com/in-depth/news/local/detroit-city/2021/03/23/interstate-375-detroit-racism-black-bottom-paradise-valley-mdot-aretha-franklin/4715658001/?build=native-web_i_t
Podcast photo: Director Ajegba, Mayor Duggan, Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, and Gov. Whitmer tour and discuss I-375 improvement project.
So this is what they mean by building resilience into roads and bridges
After a deluge that caused flooding across Metro Detroit and overwhelmed power sources for pumps that help remove water from freeways, there are a lot of questions about how to address these challenges in the future.
Rob Morosi, senior media relations representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation in the Detroit area, joins the podcast to talk about long-term innovative solutions.
As of Saturday afternoon, officials in Dearborn said that city had been drenched with more than 7.5 inches of rain. This is reminiscent of heavy rains that created similar crises only seven years ago, in what was supposed to be a rare event. Scientists say we can expect more of these extreme weather events because of climate change.
Morosi talks about the efforts to build a tunnel that will move water to a storage location before ultimately flowing into a county drain. The main tunnel, featuring a 100-foot-deep start, is being built in the northeast quadrant of the I-75/I-696 interchange.
Morosi also explains why a tunnel was not workable on the pending I-94 modernization project through Detroit but says there are other innovative drainage options in the works.
As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer observed during a tour of the flooding Monday, all of this points to the need for more investment in transportation infrastructure at the state level and to heed the Biden Administration’s call for building for resiliency.
Experts have long pointed to the benefits of building for resiliency, including reduced damage to access roads, lower levels of injury and loss of life (safety), and the avoided loss of incomes and livelihoods.
Pandemic brought more severe crashes, a decline in seat belt use, and a disproportionate toll on Black and indigenous people
This week, a discussion about more evidence that the severity of highway crashes increased during the pandemic, seat belt use declined, and the number of Black people killed in crashes rose by 23 percent.
First, Peter Savolainen, Michigan State University Foundation professor of civil and environmental engineering and an extensive researcher on road user behavior, joins the conversation to share his perspective on why drivers took more risks.
Savolainen observes that speeds tend to be higher when there are fewer vehicles on the roads, leading to reduced congestion, and that the data also underscores the difference in the population driving during the pandemic.
Later, Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), talks about his group’s advocacy on the topic and what can be done.
The conversation also touches on the flaws with setting speed limits based on the 85th percentile. In fact, a GHSA report in 2019 examining speeding-related fatalities concluded that research has shown raising speed limits to match the 85th percentile speed increases the average operating speed of the roadway, consequently increasing the 85th percentile speed.
Adkins talks about the need for more focus on design that accommodates co-existence for all users, including drivers of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. As the GHSA noted, pedestrian deaths soared during the pandemic despite the decline in vehicles on the roads.
He also discusses the research showing the increase in minorities dying in car crashes and how that needs to be part of broader equity discussions.
Photo courtesy of the Michigan State Police Seventh District’s Twitter page @MSPNorthernMI. It shows the aftermath of a vehicle from a crash on US-131 in Wexford County in May 2021.