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Talking Michigan Transportation

Author: Michigan Department of Transportation

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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.
178 Episodes
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Late last month, a Michigan Senate committee advanced legislation to enable the use of automated technology to enforce speeding laws on segments of roads under construction. Pennsylvania became the latest to join dozens of other states employing the technology, with positive results.This week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast revisits the issue with conversations with two advocates for safer work zones.First, Rob Coppersmith, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), talks about how his experience in the underground and road construction industries have informed his views and passions for the protection of workers.Later, Juan Pava, Safety Programs Unit chief, Bureau of Safety Programs and Engineering at the Illinois Department of Transportation, talks about his state’s pioneering role in implementing the use of cameras to deter drivers from speeding in work zones.Michigan House Bill 4132 passed the lower chamber in June 2023 with bipartisan support and received similar support in the Senate Transportation Committee last month.Key points:  In 2006, Illinois became the first state to authorize the use of automated traffic enforcement programs to enforce speed limits in highway work zones, with implementation coming a few years later. The enabling legislation provided a legal framework for photo enforcement of speed limits in highway work zones. In summer 2022, some Michigan lawmakers, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials, leaders in labor organizations, and the road building industry witnessed demonstrations on Michigan freeways on how the technology works.  
This week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast focuses on National Work Zone Awareness Week. An event in Midland on Monday, April 15, will kick off the week with officials from the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan State Police and several industry advocates and others.First, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who will deliver keynote remarks at the event, joins the podcast again to talk about the need for motorists to slow down and be alert in work zones. Later, Andy Dauksts, who is the head of business development and outside sales for Give ‘Em a Brake Safety, a Grand Rapids-area firm, talks about why this issue is so important to him and his colleagues.
This week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features explanations about how Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials prioritize road projects. MDOT Chief Operations Officer Gregg Brunner talks about the factors that go into selection and how planners and engineers strictly adhere to asset management principles. With National Work Zone Awareness Week approaching, Brunner also talks about how the safety of workers factors into maintaining mobility during road construction. Also discussed: the bills adopted in the Michigan House of Representatives and later voted out of the Senate Transportation Committee that would allow Michigan to join several other states in employing innovative technology to detect vehicles speeding in work zones. On a previous episode, Juan Pava, the Safety Programs Unit chief in the Bureau of Safety Programs and Engineering at the Illinois Department of Transportation, talked about how enforcement has been effective there in offering better protection for workers.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about revisiting the state’s Complete Streets policy, adopted by the State Transportation Commission in 2012.Amy Matisoff, whose duties include strategic alignment and outreach for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), explains why she’s spearheading a survey of Michigan residents to get feedback on the existing policy and what they’d like to see revised or updated.Later, she talks about another of her roles as the department’s tribal liaison and her work in that area.Some related links: How the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) tracks policies across the countryhttps://www.transportation.gov/mission/health/complete-streets-policies  Smart Growth America’s overview of Complete Streetshttps://smartgrowthamerica.org/what-are-complete-streets/ A WXYZ-TV story on the surveyhttps://www.wxyz.com/news/mdot-launches-survey-to-help-improve-roads-for-pedestrians-and-vehicles
You may have heard about the federal government’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, funded in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law at $1 billion a year for five years. Michigan was fortunate to receive $110 million of those funds.On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Steve Minton, an innovative contracts project manager at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) who is overseeing the state’s NEVI program, outlines the process. Some highlights and a timeline: $110 million total for Michigan from the NEVI programUpdated total grant funding requested for 41 sites with utility costs will be about $25-27 million for Round 1Round 2 is in the initial steps of development with a request for proposals expected to be posted in June Round 2 will focus on completing the buildout of the alternate fuel corridors (AFCs) identified in the Fiscal Year 2023 Michigan State Plan for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure DeploymentRound 2 will focus on 23 locations not covered in Round 1Round 2's funding allocation will be $15-18 millionRound 3 and beyond will occur starting in 2025
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a veteran Michigan pollster discusses a recent survey of active and likely November general election voters that shows an overwhelming number want the taxes they pay at the pump to fix roads and bridges.Michigan is among states with a sales tax on motor fuels. That tax, 6 percent, does not go to roads and bridges. By law, the proceeds support the school aid fund, revenue sharing for local municipalities and a minor portion helps fund local transit services.  Bernie Porn, president of the polling firm EPIC-MRA, explains that shifting that sales tax to roads and bridges means other revenue would be needed to continue to fund those other services.All survey respondents were asked, “Do you think that all of the taxes that you pay at the gas pump should or should not go toward funding improvements to Michigan’s roads and bridges?” In response, an 82-percent majority said all taxes paid at the gas pump should go toward funding Michigan roads and bridges, 13 percent said no, with 5 percent undecided.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget include additional funds for MI Contracting Opportunity, a program that supports contractors and suppliers who are socially or economically disadvantaged. The $5 million recommendation represents a renewal of the item in the previous budget, with a $2 million increase.On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Lisa Thompson, who directs the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) Office of Business Development, which includes the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, explains how the funding will help build on the success of assisting these businesses.Thompson says the goal is to assist small businesses with tools to actively participate in the various phases of road and bridge design and construction.Other objectives include: The continuation and growth of MDOT's highly successful consultant, small business mentor-protégé program. Expanding a small business trucking program that covers the cost of commercial driver's license (CDL) training for small, disadvantaged trucking companies to help with truck driver shortages.A key focus to connect firms with access to capital and the skills to manage it successfully throughout the project life cycle; build and maintain meaningful relationships with industry professionals to provide opportunities to utilize and/or expand their work types; and provide training regarding the intricacies of government contracting and ways to strengthen their business functions and efficiencies. Upcoming initiatives include creating two small business revolving loan programs to help support small, disadvantaged businesses grow and contract more MDOT work. There will be a small business lending program and a mega projects small business lending program. Any funds received by the state as repayment of past loans are appropriated and shall be available for future loans.Create a small business incubator program that serves MDOT's existing small and disadvantaged business development program to grow the capacity of Michigan-based small, disadvantaged businesses through training and construction mentor-protégé opportunities. 
This week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features conversations with two people who participated in a Feb. 6 announcement by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) of an additional $2.6 million being invested in 13 community projects as part of construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB). First, Heather Grondin, vice president of corporate affairs and external relations for WDBA, talks about the community benefits program and why it’s so important. The projects include cycling infrastructure added to Jefferson Avenue and Clark Street, making for a connection between the GHIB multiuse path and the City of Detroit’s Joe Louis Greenway.   Later, Mohammed Alghurabi, a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) senior project manager on the bridge project, talks about what it means to him to be able to demonstrate to residents that Canada and Michigan are delivering on promises to the community. Projects announced for funding:$250,000 toward local history and culture,  $1.3 million toward community safety,$540,000 toward green initiatives,   $250,000 toward food security,  $250,000 toward wellness, and$100,000 toward community partnerships.  
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about the road usage charge (RUC) survey conducted to gauge citizen’s thoughts on funding transportation infrastructure. Jean Ruestman, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Office of Passenger Transportation, explains how the department sought and won a federal grant to fund the survey and why the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is incentivizing states to gather the information. Some key takeaways: The survey is a research project and not about setting policy regarding the implementation of an RUC.This statewide survey is the first step in exploring how RUC, if implemented, might affect people’s modal choices (taking transit, selecting alternative less congested routes, traveling at different times of the day) and in exploring new ways to sustainably and fairly fund and maintain public transit systems, roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure in Michigan. One possible funding tool is RUC, or paying based on vehicle miles traveled, which means drivers would pay a few cents for each mile driven versus paying based on how much gas they buy.The Legislature adopted legislation in 2022 requiring MDOT to study tolling as an additional or alternative funding method. The Legislature later requested that the department examine RUC.Gov. Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council recommended lawmakers examine alternative funding sources for Michigan’s transportation infrastructure.   No policy changes like this are being debated by the Legislature at this time.Many other states are exploring RUC, with some already having implemented similar systems (Utah, Oregon, Virginia, and Hawaii).
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Garrett Dawe, who was recently named engineer of traffic and safety at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Dawe succeeds Mark Bott, who is retiring. Dawe talks about what he’s learned in a variety of positions at MDOT, including as a Transportation Service Center manager and North Region operations engineer, and his keen interest in traffic safety. He also discusses the perils of drivers becoming too complacent behind the wheel, prompting them to indulge in distractions. 
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, MDOT’s coordinator for snow plowing and other maintenance on state routes in four west Michigan counties talks about preparations for heavy snow in the forecast for this weekend. Kurt Fritz, who coordinates maintenance on state trunkline (I, M and US routes) in Mason, Oceana, Muskegon and Ottawa counties, talks about his work with the local road agencies that maintain those routes under contract with MDOT. Nationally, forecasters are using the term “bomb cyclone” blizzard for what’s headed for the Midwest.  Reports this week said an earlier storm hit more than 30 states with snow, ice, rain, or thunderstorms and encompassed more than 2 million square miles.  
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Mike Hayes, who was recently named chair of the Michigan State Transportation Commission (STC). Hayes, who has been active in community affairs in Midland for many years and served in the Michigan House of Representatives, has been a member of the STC since 2011. He talks about how his background as a community leader and lawmaker informed his thinking about transportation infrastructure and how his views have evolved. Also discussed: The commission’s role and what he considers their most significant action in recent years, approving the bonds for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $3.5 billion Rebuilding Michigan initiative; How commissions can stay abreast of rapidly developing technologies and innovations in transportation; His service representing Michigan on the International Authority, the body overseeing construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. The International Authority consists of six members with equal representation from Canada and Michigan. Two members are appointed by Canada, one appointed by Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) and three appointed by Michigan. 
This week on the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Joann Muller, co-author of the Axios What’s Next newsletter, offers her thoughts on trends in the automotive industry, including electric vehicle (EV) sales and more. Three recent stories explored the rapidly changing landscape: How consumers are finding comfort in hybrid vehicles before fully adopting EVs. From the story: “Car buyers - not politicians, regulators or carmakers - will dictate the pace of the electric transition.”What car dealers are telling the Biden administration about EV sales. What needs to be done to gain public trust in automated vehicles. Also discussed: how the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program can help states build out charging networks to provide more certainty for travelers. This includes the $110 million awarded to Michigan for that work.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Stefan Tongur, vice president of business development in the United States for Israel-based Electreon, a developer and provider of electric vehicle (EV) charging solutions. He first discussed the technology on the podcast shortly after the contract was announced in 2022.Tongur talks about the significance of a media event Wednesday, Nov. 29, showcasing the first inductive charging technology installed on a public street in the United States.In February 2022, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced the award of a contract to Electreon for a pilot project with implementation of the technology. MDOT has worked closely in partnership with Electreon, Michigan Central, and the City of Detroit. This week’s demonstration was on a segment of 14th Street, adjacent to the Michigan Central campus in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.The next phase of the project will add the technology to a segment of nearby US-12 (Michigan Avenue).Tongur explains the company’s mission: To accelerate carbon neutrality and simultaneously meet the needs of public and commercial fleet operators and consumers, we have created a cost-effective, end-to-end wireless charging infrastructure and services platform.Electreon has projects in several countries, including most cited as having the highest share of EV sales.Next week: Joann Muller, a Detroit-based automotive industry reporter for Axios, will be a guest on the podcast to talk about her extensive reporting on the development of EVs.
Experts are trying to parse data that shows a dramatic decline in the number of trips Americans take on foot. Axios summarized findings from Streetlight Data, including a 36 percent drop in average daily walking trips in the contiguous U.S. between 2019 and 2022. On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Emily Adler, director of content at Streetlight, explains the methodology for collecting the information. StreetLight measures travel behavior based on anonymized data from mobile devices, vehicle GPS systems and more.Key points:"In every metro and state that StreetLight analyzed, walking trips declined over the three-year period by at least 20 percent," per the report.The rate of decline slowed from -16 percent between 2019 and 2020 and -19 percent between 2020 and 2021 to -6 percent between 2021 and 2022. But that's still a significant overall drop, from about 120 million trips in 2019 to fewer than 80 million in 2022.Other theories about the decline suggest the rise in online deliveries is a factor, as people use Amazon and other services for deliveries of goods and food.During and coming out of the pandemic, walking as part of a commute declined as more people work remotely. Even people walking their “pandemic pups” don’t really move the numbers compared to those who commuted by foot previously.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a discussion about why distracted driving initially trended down in Michigan after the state's hands-free law took effect and why those numbers are not dropping as rapidly now.Ryan McMahon, senior vice president of strategy for Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a Massachusetts-based company with a stated mission to make the world’s roads and drivers safer, talks about the technology employed to determine the degree of distracted driving.New data released by the company shows that in Michigan, distraction has increased every month since month 3, totaling a 7.6 percent increase. In the same time period, Ohio’s distraction level increased 2.4 percent, three times lower.McMahon explains how their telematics showed Michigan with a 36 percent reduction in distracted driving around the time the law took effect but some of those gains have been erased, a trend in other states with similar legislation.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says distracted driving accounted for more than 3,500 crash deaths in 2021.
 This week, the Michigan Senate’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony on legislation that would allow for the use of safety cameras to monitor the speeds of vehicles driving through road construction projects. Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of External Engagement at the Governors Highway Safety Association, returns to the podcast to tout the effectiveness of the technology in other states. Later, Gregg Brunner, chief engineer and chief operations officer at the Michigan Department of Transportation, explains why he supports the legislation and his takeaway after viewing a demonstration of the technology along a busy freeway. Michigan could join 17 other states employing the technology to lower speeds in work zones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. According to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, more than 100,000 crashes occurred in work zones in 2020, resulting in an estimated 44,000 work zone injury crashes and 857 work zone crash deaths. From a report on the topic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "The relationship between driving speed and the risk of a crash and/or fatality is well established. In 2019, 26 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities occurred in crashes in which at least one driver was speeding." 
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations with two people seeking to better understand the reasons for an uptick in wrong-way driving and to mitigate the risks.First, Gary Bubar, a traffic safety specialist for AAA Michigan, talks about the trend and his organization’s awareness and education efforts. He explains that elderly drivers and those who are intoxicated are much more likely to be wrong-way drivers.Speaking to the Detroit News (subscription) recently about wrong-way crash statistics, Bubar said, “These numbers are only insignificant if you're not the one involved, or if you don't know anyone involved. Across the country, we have about 350 to 400 wrong-way fatality crashes a year. If you're one of those or related to one of those, that number is huge."Bubar also talks about the disturbing trend, highlighted in a Michigan State Police news release this week, of fewer people using seat belts.Later, Erick Kind, Grand Region engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), talks about some measures being implemented to help address wrong-way crashes on the US-131 freeway in Grand Rapids. Kind talks about some technology being employed at freeway ramps where drivers have been found to enter in the wrong direction. These steps are in addition to some things MDOT and other departments have implemented in recent years: Lowered “Do Not Enter” signs to improve headlight angles.Added reflective strips to “Do Not Enter” and "Wrong Way” signposts.Added backside red reflective strips along the length of the off ramps.Added stop bars and turn arrows at ramp approaches, in addition to wrong-way arrows placed further back.Added turning guideline markings at ramps where the on and off ramps are adjacent to each other.Painted curbed islands at ramp terminals.
Understanding the intricacies of a state's transportation funding can be a daunting task. On this week’s episode of the Talking Michigan Transportation, Bill Hamilton, a policy analyst in the Michigan House Fiscal Agency and transportation luminary, talks about his work. The discussion also includes an overview of Michigan's Transportation Fund (MTF) and the Comprehensive Transportation Fund (CTF), which funds public transportation. Hamilton talks about a report he posted recently that analyzes the CTF in the wake of some additional appropriations. These include a $15 million annual increase in CTF funding for transit and $45 million in federal pandemic relief funds for local bus operations in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget. Hamilton explains that most of the public transit funds are appropriated for local bus operating assistance to some 80 agencies across the state. He also discusses the incentives for the agencies to draw down more funds by raising their own revenues through millages or other initiatives. 
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Shane Peck, communications and public involvement director and vice president at WSP, talks about a major study he co-authored examining the most effective way to explain the benefits of transportation.The research identified and tested a broad range of evidence-based themes and presented five key themes:“Transportation that works for everyone improves all our lives.” (Equity)"More reliable transportation makes your commute less stressful.” (Easier Commutes) “Improving transportation means you can get where you need to go - quickly and easily.” (Mobility)“Time spent sitting in traffic is time away from the important things in life.” (Time)“Investing in transportation creates more jobs in your community.” (Jobs)Peck talks about how transportation agencies can capitalize on the research to better explain what they do. 
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