On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA, talks about the disturbing rise in crash fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.
Since pandemic stay-at-home advisories went into effect in 2020, traffic fatalities have risen. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase from 38,824 fatalities in 2020.
A new report found unsafe driving behaviors, including speeding, red-light running, drowsy driving, and driving impaired rose from 2020 to 2021. Nelson explains that the most alarming increase was among drivers admitting to getting behind the wheel after drinking enough that they felt they were over the legal limit, an increase of nearly 24 percent. According to survey data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, that represents a reversal in the steady declines of dangerous driving behaviors in the three years from 2018 through 2020.
The problem illustrates how we should think about technology, whether it is GPS navigation or sophisticated driver assistance. As Nelson observes, the technology can enhance safety but not entirely shift the responsibility from the driver.
Nelson also talks about crashes and fatalities caused by drivers traveling the wrong way on freeways. They studied the wrong-way crashes between 2015 and 2018 and found a 34 percent increase over the years between 2010 and 2014. They found that six in 10 of those crashes involved impaired drivers.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA).
As discussed in previous installments, U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5 percent in 2021 to 42,915, marking the highest number killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.
Farrah talks about the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles, both in terms of passenger vehicles and commercial trucks.
He observes that many vehicles on the road today have driver assistance technologies, which help to save lives. The evolution of the technology will only enhance those safety benefits.
On next week’s edition, the focus on safety continues as Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA, joins the podcast to talk about the troubling crash data and what can be done.
Michigan is poised to become the 26th state to implement a ban on the use of hand-held phones while driving. The new laws, passed as House bills 4250, 4251 and 4252, are headed to Gov. Whitmer’s desk for her signature and are expected to take effect on June 30.
This follows adoption of similar legislation in Ohio in April. An early analysis of data tracking the use of hand-held mobile devices in vehicles indicates distracted driving may have dropped as much as 9 percent during the first weeks of implementation there.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Ryan McMahon, senior vice president for strategy at Cambridge Mobile Telematics, explains how his firm gathers the data and why it’s important.
McMahon said the media coverage and attention to the legislation in Ohio and other states with similar laws contributes to the reduction in distracted driving crashes, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says accounted for more than 3,500 crash deaths in 2021.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their infrastructure report card for Michigan at a May 8 news conference and gave the state a cumulative grade of C-, which counts as improvement since the previous grade was D+.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, two people who participated in the news conference talk about the roads component of the report card.
First, Ron Brenke, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Michigan and the Michigan section of ASCE, talks about how decades of underinvestment in transportation infrastructure put Michigan where it is.
Later, Amy O’Leary, executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), explains the vital transportation needs of the communities served by her organization.
Michigan’s grade for roads showed slight improvement, largely because of investments in state trunklines, the heaviest-traveled roads, from the MDOT’s Rebuilding Michigan program.
From the report:
Traffic volumes have returned from pandemic-era lows. Vehicle miles traveled in 2021 were 97 billion, 95 percent of the 2019 number. Fortunately, the condition of roads Michiganders are driving on are improving, thanks in part to a 2017 funding package. Of Michigan’s 120,000 miles of paved federal aid-eligible roads, 25 percent are in good condition, up from 20 percent good in 2017. Forty-two percent of the roads are rated as fair, and 33 percent are in poor condition. Gov. Whitmer’s 2020 “Rebuilding Michigan Program” included $3.5 billion of one-time bond financing, accelerating major highway projects on state trunklines. To erase decades of underinvestment and meet future needs, decision-makers should increase dedicated funding for roads, re-tool fee models, prioritize traffic safety, and improve resilience to worsening environmental threats.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations about how grants from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), will help the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) rebuild or shore up major roads and bridges over the next few years.
First, Beckie Curtis, director of MDOT’s Bureau of Bridges and Structures, talks about the big news that MDOT received a $73 million federal grant to replace the 85-year-old Lafayette Avenue Bridge in Bay City. It is MDOT’s second-oldest movable bridge.
Curtis also explains where the bridge fits with priorities and efforts to rebuild or replace other aging bridges on the state network.
Later, Niles Annelin, policy section manager at MDOT, explains the broader grant process and the work involved in applying for and winning IIJA grants.
These include a $105 million grant for the I-375 Reconnecting Communities project in Detroit, which involves replacing the depressed freeway with an at-grade urban boulevard, accommodating multi-modal users. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to announce the grant in September 2022.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about the success of efforts by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to attract pollinators with roadside sunflowers and other vegetation.
Amanda Novak, a resource specialist in MDOT’s Bay Region, talks about the origins and successes of MDOT’s pollinator program and how the experience of other state departments of transportation (DOT), including North Carolina, inspired the program.
Novak talks about MDOT’s efforts planting sunflowers, dubbed pollinator superheroes, along state highways.
From a 2015 issue of “The Scenic Route,” a publication of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas:
The alarming loss of habitat over the past two decades has left untold millions of bees, butterflies, and other wild pollinators hungry and homeless. The small creatures on which we depend for a significant portion of our food supply have hardly been without their champions; public support for monarch butterflies alone has been estimated in the billions of dollars. Still, the pollinator prognosis remained dire. But over the past 18 months, support for pollinators has undergone a seismic shift, led by President Obama, who called for a national Pollinator Task Force in the spring of 2014. Less than a year later, in a book-length “Strategy to Protect the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators,” the federal government set ambitious goals that include the restoration or enhancement of 7 million acres of land for pollinator habitat over the next five years. Roadsides will comprise a significant portion of that acreage.
Novak also talks about “Show Stopper” wildflowers to be planted at the Port Huron and Coldwater welcome centers. This is a trial year for us to see how the seed does.
A second segment reprises a 2021 conversation with Margaret Barondess, manager of MDOT’s Environmental Section, explaining the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and how it informs Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and DOT decision making.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a look at transportation-related legislation being debated.
Aarne Frobom, senior policy analyst at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and Troy Hagon, MDOT director of government affairs, break down the proposals.
Among those discussed:
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, some good news for innovative projects aimed at enhancing mobility.
On March 21, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced winners of Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grants.
Michele Mueller, MDOT senior project manager for connected, automated, and electrification, joins the podcast to talk about a SMART grant award for $1.8 million to implement a proof of concept of a smart corridor for truck- borne goods traveling across the Blue Water Bridge, a vital international crossing between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Canada.
Later, Janet Geissler, mobility innovation specialist at MDOT, explain the details of another SMART grant, a $1.3 million award to advance rural mobility. There are 82 public transit agencies in Michigan, 60 of which serve rural areas.
These were among several projects receiving grants across the country.
With the introduction of a new bill in the Michigan Legislature to enable the use of automated technology to enforce speeding laws on segments of road under construction, this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast reprises an episode from Aug. 30, 2022, after a similar bill was introduced last legislative session.
House Bill 4132 has bipartisan sponsorship that has generated a great deal of discussion. The podcast now follows up on talks when the similar bill was discussed in the previous Legislature.
Some key points from the previous podcast:
The podcast first featured a conversation with Juan Pava, Safety Programs Unit chief, Bureau of Safety Programs and Engineering at the Illinois Department of Transportation, about how the enforcement has worked there.
Later, Lance Binoniemi of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), talks about why he and his members are advocating for the previous House Bill 5750, and what he learned from the demonstrations.
As Black History Month 2023 winds down, this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast highlights the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program and some of the success stories.
First, Lisa Thompson, administrator of MDOT’s Office of Business Development, which includes the DBE program, explains why the federal government requires state DOTs to help give historically disadvantaged groups an equal footing in procuring transportation contracts.
Thompson explains that the origins of the program and case for support dating back to the Reagan administration, including revisions over the years, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Transportation:
This program has been the Department of Transportation's most important tool for promoting equal opportunity in federal transportation contracting since it was first signed into law by President Reagan in 1983. Effective March 4, 1999, the department issued a new final regulation to guide the administration of the DBE program. This new regulation has three major goals:
In a second segment, Rhonda Rowe, owner and chief executive officer of Rowe Trucking, LLC in Detroit, talks about how the program has helped her family business thrive for several decades. Her business is among those highlighted in a special MDOT initiative.
On part II of special Black History Month editions of the Talking Michigan Transportation, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist talks about the importance of the project to convert the I-375 depressed freeway to an at-grade boulevard, reconnecting neighborhoods.
As a child growing up near those neighborhoods, and hearing the stories of relatives who recalled the razing of black-owned homes and businesses in the name of urban renewal, Gilchrist has personal reasons to be excited about the future, which he’s discussed previously.
In September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Gilchrist, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and others to formally award the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) a nearly $105 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to boost the project.
Gilchrist also underscores the social and environmental justice components of the I-375 project and how the same principles apply to developing the intermodal facility and rethinking Michigan Avenue.
Later, Gilchrist talks about a major economic development announcement this week that he participated in with Gov. Whitmer as Ford Motor Co. unveiled plans for a $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Marshall, Michigan.
On special Black History Month editions of the Talking Michigan Transportation, conversations about the Michigan Department of Transportation’s project to transform the I-375 freeway into an at-grade urban boulevard, reconnecting neighborhoods to the east with downtown Detroit.
In this episode, retired Detroit Free Press reporter and editor Bill McGraw talks about what he learned in his reporting about the history of the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods on the city’s east side. Black business owners and residents were displaced as city administrations dating back to the 1940s pursued an urban renewal plan that included eventual plans for a freeway through the neighborhood.
McGraw explains how a once thriving Black business district on Hastings Street, with banks, hospitals, clothing stores, restaurants, and other service providers, was destroyed to make way for development that largely benefitted white developers and residents.
One Detroit Free Press story (paywall) describes in rich detail what was lost:
"One of many notable establishments was Sunnie Wilson’s sprawling Forest Club, at Forest and Hastings. It featured a 107-foot bar, bowling alley, banquet hall and a two-story roller-skating rink. Beginners went upstairs."
Later this week, another podcast episode will feature a conversation with Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who has strong family connections to the neighborhoods, and he talks about what the project means to him. We’ll also talk about a major economic development announcement this week that he participated in with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as Ford Motor Co. unveiled plans for a $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Marshall, Michigan.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Trevor Pawl, who recently moved on from his pioneering role as the state’s chief mobility officer, reflects on all the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME) accomplished during his tenure and why he thinks more good things are ahead.
Pawl talks about why it made sense of him and his family to move on now and what they have planned for the future.
He also shares insights on hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, what the future holds and how the U.S. federal government is making moves to catch up with other nations and how Michigan is embracing a clean-energy future as discussed in this video with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
Pawl also expounds on Michigan’s participation as one of seven Midwestern states teaming up to accelerate the development of hydrogen as a clean energy alternative. The partnership includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, whose economies are dominated by agriculture and heavy industry such as steel and automobile manufacturing.
Among accomplishments from partners in including OFME, MDOT and other agencies, Pawl touts:
On this episode of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations about how supplemental appropriations legislation will boost a long-sought rebuilding of a freeway interchange that is vital to the regional flow of commuters, commerce and quality of life.
First, Michigan Department of Transportation Grand Region Engineer Erick Kind talks about how the interchange at I-96 and Fruit Ridge Avenue in Walker, northwest of Grand Rapids, has been outdated and in need of improvement for several years. As with all transportation infrastructure in Michigan, decades-long underinvestment has made the improvements cost-prohibitive, despite the growing manufacturing, agricultural, service industry, and community needs in the corridor.
The interchange is categorized as functionally obsolete and in need of replacement. Fruit Ridge Avenue has five lanes north and four lanes to the south of the bridge over I-96, but the bridge has only two lanes, which presents congestion and safety challenges.
In the podcast’s second segment, State Rep. Carol Glanville, who helped secure the $25 million for the project, talks about her advocacy and success helping others understand why it’s a priority not just for the city of Walker but the broader region. She also explains how expanding the Fruit Ridge Avenue bridge will allow for nonmotorized lanes and connections between trails.
From previous federal grant applications for the project:
Other relevant links:
Analysis of the supplemental appropriations legislation
A December announcement of a nearly 200,000-square-foot industrial facility near the interchange
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Eric Morris, Michigan office lead for HNTB, the transportation consultant selected to complete a tolling study.
Some 35 states have at least one facility with tolling. But that number is a little deceiving because Michigan would be counted in that total since there is tolling on big bridges and/or international crossings but no tolling on non-bridge road segments.
Morris says the experts analyzed all 31 highways in Michigan for the study and determined that 14 could become toll roads, including large portions of Interstates 75, 94 and 96.
As Bridge Michigan reported, any tolls would take years to implement and require approval from the Legislature and the governor, among numerous hurdles.
Morris talks about the differences between various road user charge (RUC) options, including mileage-based user fees (MBUF) and tolling and how pilot programs seeking people to participate have been voluntary, so far, including one in Oregon that has generated a lot of discussion.
Other relevant links:
A 2019 Epic-MRA poll of Michigan voter views on tolling.
Some things the study will cover, including managed lanes and how they work.
Why Michigan doesn’t have tolling. Some history.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Heather Grondin, vice president of corporate affairs and external relations at the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), which is overseeing the building of the Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB).
She talks about the progress made on the bridge in 2022, the busiest so far for construction. A WDBA video released in December offered year-in-review highlights.
In addition to facing the traditional challenges of any large infrastructure project, the worldwide pandemic also affected the project, though work continued with safeguards for the health of the workers.
Grondin explains that among other milestones in 2023, the towers on each side of the border will reach their full height - more than 700 feet, very close to the height of the tallest building at the Renaissance Center along the Detroit riverfront.
Soon, workers will begin connecting the first cables from the towers to the bridge and road deck. Also in 2023, work will begin on the main span over the Detroit River, which will be accomplished without any work in the river.
Other ongoing developments include:
Grondin also highlights the sustainability components of the project, which are receiving international recognition. She also explained the varied community-benefit programs that are helping neighbors of the bridge with home improvements and offering funding for some 20 non-for-profits supporting local communities in the Delray neighborhood of Detroit and the Sandwich neighborhood in Windsor.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Brad Wieferich, MDOT chief operations officer and chief engineer, talks about major road and bridge projects completed on state trunklines in the past year, featured in MDOT’s year-end video.
Among the projects discussed:
Wieferich also talks about some of the unique challenges MDOT staff and contractors face because of the pandemic, inflation, and supply chain issues.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a recap of transportation-related state legislation signed into law in 2022.
Guests include Aarne Frobom, a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) senior policy analyst, and Troy Hagon, director of the department’s Office of Governmental Affairs.
Both agreed that two bills aimed at streamlining the funding process for local road agencies, and adopted with bipartisan support, were among the most significant. Senate Bill (SB) 0465 allows local road agencies to participate in a federal aid swap with the state to reduce overall repair costs.
Another bill, SB 466, authorizes the use of state funds to replace the federal dollars directed to MDOT under SB 465. Michigan joins several other states employing the buyout strategy.
Other significant legislation included SB 706, a national first in paving the way for dedicated automated vehicle lanes on state routes, also adopted with bipartisan support. Specifically, the legislation authorizes MDOT to designate automated vehicle roadways, enter into agreements with technology partners to operate them, and allows for a user fee to be assessed.
Two other bills discussed on the podcast failed to get a vote in the final session of the year: House Bill 5734, which calls for the department to expand the use of temporary barriers for worker protection in segments of roads under construction, and SB 1151, aimed at providing toll operators with a mechanism for collecting unpaid tolls.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, talks about recommendations in a report from the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.
Among the highlights, or pillars, Pawl outlines:
Transition and grow our mobility industry and workforce.
Provide safer, greener and more accessible transportation infrastructure
Lead the world in mobility and electrification policy and innovation
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation, a conversation on two timely topics with long-time friend of the podcast, Lloyd Brown, of HDR.
First, a reaction to recent news that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) advised the New Jersey Department of Transportation to discontinue the use of humorous messages on changeable message signs.
Brown has done some research on the use of humor in communications and offers insights he’s gathered.
As reported on NJ.com, FHWA officials said in an e-mail, “The Federal Highway Administration is aware of the changeable message signs and has reached out to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).”
The story said the FHWA did not answer questions asking for more details, including why it asked NJDOT to discontinue use of the messages or how it has handled other states that use humor to get attention to safety issues.
The answer to why the signs were disallowed might be in the 31-paragraph ruling about “Uses of, and Nonstandard Syntax on Changeable Message Signs” issued on Jan. 4, 2021, by the U.S. DOT and FHWA.
In a second segment, Brown talks about what the rapid changes at Twitter and slashing of the work force by new owner Elon Musk could mean to DOTs that have used the platform as a vital and interactive tool to communicate in real time with travelers.
As reported in the New York Times, spoof messages and parody accounts have proliferated in recent days, including some that impersonate state DOTs.
This raises questions about whether government agencies will eventually abandon the platform in search of others with some degree of content monitoring and regulation.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about the 2023-2027 Five-Year Transportation Program, approved by the State Transportation Commission Nov. 10.
Michael Case, a planning specialist at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) who oversees development of the program, talks about the history of the process. He also discusses the challenges of trying to forecast the future with ongoing uncertainty over transportation funding, inflation and climate change.
Case also breaks down project highlight focus areas as outlined in the report:
This is the second time the program has included those areas. Case explains how these inform the plan, as well as the plan's emphasis on each focus area across MDOT’s seven regions and its support of various mobility modes.
Case explains how he and his colleagues endeavor to engage even difficult-to-reach audiences to be sure they are included in the public involvement process and weigh in on their unique transportation needs.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about passenger rail service in the state. Tim Hoeffner, a former director of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail and now a consultant with Quandel Consultants, is the guest.
Hoeffner talks about the history of passenger rail service in Michigan and offers his perspective about developments in recent years, including ongoing work to establish dependable 110 mph Amtrak service between Detroit and Chicago.
Among the challenges Hoeffner discusses:
Hoeffner also talks about the state Legislature and federal government pitching in funding for a study of a passenger line between Ann Arbor and Traverse City.
Traverse City-based Groundwork for Resilient Communities has been a leading advocate of A2TC project. The Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority will work in partnership with Groundwork and a team of partners to complete the planning study.
This week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast focuses on the Equity in Infrastructure Project (EIP).
On Oct. 11, chief executive officers from six state departments of transportation signed a pledge, saying they are committed to streamline processes for obtaining necessary disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) certifications, improve payment time and expand access to financing to help underserved businesses.
Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba was among the leaders signing the pledge. He talks about the importance of the event and what it means to him.
Saying it was high honor to be included in the event, Ajegba talks about both the symbolic and tangible benefits of signing the pledge. He says this demonstrates a commitment to make sure federal dollars are distributed in an equitable way to shore up DBE and other programs.
Ajegba also explains that it involves a bigger-picture view and looking at barriers holding back DBEs.
In the second segment, Phil Washington, CEO of the Denver International Airport and President Biden’s nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), discusses his role in co-founding EIP.
"You can see the urgency behind our cause in how quickly this coalition is expanding with the participation of some of the largest public contracting entities in the nation," Washington said in the news release about the event. "As we improve America's transit systems, airports and other infrastructure, we must be focused on improving people's lives, too."
Washington also discusses the support and shared commitment of the White House.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation, conversations about the negotiations and efforts to honor the rights of landowners while developing transportation projects.
First, Teresa Vanis, manager of the real estate services section at MDOT, talks about her vast experience helping property owners with the acquisition process.
She explains the laws and policies governing government land acquisition and myriad protections built in for property owners in federal law and the State of Michigan’s Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act of 1980.
Later, Mohammed Alghurabi, MDOT’s senior project manager on the Gordie Howe International Bridge, makes a return visit to the podcast and shares what he’s learned in several years of communicating with landowners and others affected when roads and bridges are built.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Susan Howard, director of policy and government relations for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
Picking up on last week’s conversation with Richard Czuba, a veteran Michigan pollster and founder of the Glengariff Group, Howard talks about results from a recent Glengariff poll that asked Michigan voters for their perceptions of road conditions and repairs and how those results fit with what she’s seen at the national level.
Howard says contrary to common belief, lawmakers have largely not paid a price for raising taxes or fees that fund transportation infrastructure when voters understand where the money is going and can see the results.
Howard also addresses the health of the Highway Trust Fund and why the “donor-state” concept is no longer an issue in Michigan and other states (save, perhaps for Texas, where she says officials would make a different argument).
The federal government has used the General Fund to compensate for the diminished Highway Trust Fund for several years now, while the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. AASHTO officials have cited the cost of other items in 1993 versus now and how transportation infrastructure has suffered because of the lack of action.
Is the Highway Trust Fund model broken? Howard discuses the history of the fund going back to its origins in 1956 and some discussion about whether transportation should be funded like other federally supported discretionary programs.
“The conventional wisdom and accepted course for the future is moving away from the gas tax as the method for funding transportation and to a mileage-based fee,” Howard says, which recalls previous podcast conversations about funding roads like public utilities.