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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.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Richard Czuba, a veteran Michigan pollster and founder of the Glengariff Group. A recent poll commissioned by his clients, The Detroit News and WDIV-TV, included some questions to measure Michigan voter perceptions of road conditions and repairs. Among issues discussed:What drives perceptions of road conditions. Is it mostly informed by how rough the pavement is on the street where a person lives or a local arterial or freeway used for commuting?Demographic breakdowns in the polling and differences in perception by gender and age group. Czuba’s research over the years and his conclusions about why people might be expressing more optimism about road work in Michigan.Perceptions of the Rebuilding Michigan bonding plan.As Czuba told the Detroit News when the poll was released: “It’s a perfect example of the voters aren’t stupid — they can actually make sense of what the issues are, who’s doing what.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Detroit Thursday, Sept. 15, bearing gifts. The secretary joined Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, MDOT Director Paul Ajegba, and others to formally award MDOT a nearly $105 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to convert the recessed I-375 freeway into an urban boulevard, allowing for the reconnection of neighborhoods with the city’s central business district as well as cultural and sports venues.This week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features conversations with Zach Kolodin, director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office established by Gov. Whitmer earlier this year, and Jon Loree, MDOT’s I-375 project manager. First, Kolodin talks about his office’s role in overseeing all infrastructure, not just that related to transportation, and then shares his perspective on the I-375 announcement. Loree explains the benefits and opportunities the grant will provide for the project and talks about his ongoing work in public involvement with corridor neighbors, business owners and myriad interested parties.The project cost estimate is $270 million, with an additional $30 million anticipated for engineering costs. The INFRA grant will go toward construction and cover more than a third of that.As Gov. Whitmer observed in her remarks, competition for the INFRA grants was fierce, meaning Michigan’s selection for the fourth-highest amount of all the awards signals the value the project will provide to the community.With the grant, the project will be able to complete design and begin construction as soon as 2025, at least two years earlier than originally hoped. Work should be completed in 2028. Loree explains how design efforts are beginning and conversations and engagement continue on the future land use and community enhancements.The project is taking an innovative approach to use the value of the excess property from the freeway-to-boulevard conversion for community enhancements to acknowledge and address historic environmental justice effects from the original freeway construction.
This November marks the 65th anniversary of the opening of the Mackinac Bridge, the iconic structure linking Michigan’s two peninsulas. Each year, tens of thousands of people from across the state and other regions descend on the Straits of Mackinac for the experience of traversing the bridge. On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, first, Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, a long-time member and chairman of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, shares his memories of many walks with friends and family. As an iron worker, his father, Mike Gleason, helped build the bridge, and Shorty talks about the legacy and his own experience as an iron worker. Later, Cole Cavalieri, assistant chief engineer at the Mackinac Bridge, talks about the ongoing work to maintain the bridge, projects in the works or planned for the future, and the pride he takes in watching people experience the bridge during the annual walk.  He also discusses recent challenges in maintaining the bridge, including the changing climate’s role in altering freeze-thaw cycles and causing ice to melt and fall on the driving lanes.
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. Last week, some Michigan lawmakers, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials, and leaders in labor organizations and the road building industry witnessed demonstrations on Michigan freeways of how the technology works. On this edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, first, 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 House Bill 5750, and what he learned from the demonstrations. Some key themes: Both transportation professionals and researchers generally agree that active enforcement is the most effective way to reduce speeding in work zones. However, speed enforcement in work zones is not always as simple as posting police in the work zone. Oftentimes work zones are not conducive to active enforcement by officers. For example, the work zone layout may limit both the number of safe locations where officers can position their vehicles and the number of pull-off areas where violators can be stopped.Active enforcement may also mean that officers will need to leave the work zone to cite a vehicle (which decreases enforcement visibility) or step out of their vehicles in the work zone (which opens them up to the risk of being struck by a passing vehicle).Alternatively, photo speed enforcement systems provide active enforcement while remaining stationary, and they can consistently cite more drivers, which can increase compliance with posted speed limits. Another benefit of using fixed camera systems is that they don’t require officers to risk injury or death by exposing themselves to vehicles moving at high speeds through the work zone. Studies of these systems in general have shown that their use could result in a reduction in injury crashes of as much as 20 to 25 percent.
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the City of Detroit would receive $25 million in a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity RAISE grant toward a major project to modernize US-12 (Michigan Avenue) in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. On a new edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist talks about what this means to him as a neighbor of the corridor. Per the grant application:MDOT and the city are collaborating on a project to rebuild a portion of Michigan Avenue to support a safe, innovative, and multimodal travel corridor. The project will re-apportion space in the right of way to accommodate several new and improved multimodal facilities, including:Expanded sidewalks and pedestrian amenities like seating, lighting, and street trees.Raised bike lanes at sidewalk level for areas with existing lanes, new dedicated and buffered bike lanes in downtown, and bike racks.Two dedicated center-running lanes for transit vehicles and for connected and autonomous vehicles. Transit vehicles will have signal priority to limit waiting time.Improved amenities, like concrete transit islands and new shelters.Improved markings and islands for additional/enhanced midblock pedestrian crossings.Two new traffic signals for intersections. Gilchrist talks about how these added benefits will transform the neighborhood and how the project spells good things to come for Corktown, a diverse neighborhood with a rich history.Podcast photo: Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. Photo courtesy of Lt. Gov. Gilchrist's Office.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations with two people working on initiatives to protect those who build our state’s roads and bridges.Michigan House Bill 5750 would allow the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Michigan State Police (MSP) to set up automated speed enforcement systems in segments of state roads where work is being performed. First, John Osika, a veteran of Operating Engineers 324, representing heavy equipment operators, talks about the need for this legislation and other measures to protect workers. He recently penned an op-ed for Bridge Magazine laying out the reasons he and his colleagues support HB 5750.He also discusses close calls he observed first-hand while working on projects.Later, Lindsey Renner, MDOT construction operations engineer who is transitioning from her role as work zone manager, talks about the potential benefits of automated speed enforcement. These benefits have been measured in other states, including Maryland where a 2016 report documented a 10 percent reduction in speeds in Montgomery County.The House Fiscal Agency analysis says the bill would limit use of automated speed enforcement system to streets and highways under MDOT jurisdiction (state trunkline highways) and only in work zones when workers are present. The bill would have no impact on local road agencies.The bill earmarks civil fine revenue from violations of section 627c first to MDOT, by implication for the cost of installing and using automated speed enforcement systems. The bill directs MDOT to deposit civil fine revenue from violations of section 627c in excess of the costs of installing and using automated speed enforcement systems into the Work Zone Safety Fund, established in the bill as a restricted fund for the purpose of improving work zone safety. 
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Biden in late 2021, among many things, established a National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (“NEVI Formula”) to provide funding to states to strategically deploy electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and to establish an interconnected network to facilitate data collection, access, and reliability.In order to access those federal funds, in Michigan’s case, $110 million, states are required to submit a plan to the federal government. MDOT submitted the plan on Thursday, July 28, but the development involved several state agencies and other partners. This week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features a conversation with two of the people who worked on the plan: —   Niles Annelin is a policy section manager at MDOT and spearheaded the department’s efforts on the plan.—   And Judd Herzer, director of strategic policy at the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity (LEO) and the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.Among the most vital themes emphasized in the plan is equity. Annelin talks about the extensive efforts the team took to ensure to maximize benefits to disadvantaged communities. Herzer explains how a work force development initiative serves that goal. Specifically, the plan says the state will seek to “maximize benefits to disadvantaged communities, as well as rural and underserved communities, in alignment with the Justice40 Initiative” and will “foster a diverse pipeline of workers in EV-related careers” and “equity-driven workforce training.” Other highlights from the Michigan NEVI Plan include:A strategic vision for how Michigan will use its $110M NEVI funds to “develop a safe, equitable, reliable, convenient, and interconnected transportation electrification network that enables the efficient movement of people, improves quality of life, spurs economic growth, protects Michigan’s environment, and facilitates data collection.”Strategic goals to “reduce GHG emissions economy-wide by 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, en route to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050; and build the safe, convenient, affordable, reliable, and equitable infrastructure necessary to support two million EVs on Michigan roads by 2030.” A goal which supports the governor’s MI Healthy Climate PlanThat the Plan was developed with the input of over 200 stakeholder entities, 10 state agencies, and the general public. That the State will utilize its existing programmatic infrastructure through Charge Up Michigan (EGLE) to administer NEVI funds for Alternative Fuel Corridor buildout of a safe, reliable, accessible, and commercially viable charging network. 
In the wake of some troubling incidents on the Mackinac Bridge (involving people climbing a tower or otherwise accessing the bridge to take photos and another involving a bomb threat that closed the bridge on a busy weekend and disrupted travel for hours), the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill, 99 to 6, classifying the Mackinac Bridge and other vital structures as "key facilities." The designation means trespassing on the structures is a felony offense.This week on the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, first, a conversation with the chief sponsor of House Bill 5315, State Rep. John Damoose. Later, Patrick "Shorty" Gleason, chairman of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA), explains why the MBA took the rare step of adopting a resolution in support of the legislation.HB 5315 would add the Mackinac Bridge to the list of key facilities, as well as any movable bridge in the state: the Zilwaukee Bridge, the Rouge River Bridge, the MacArthur Bridge, and all international crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge, the Blue Water Bridge, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the Gordie Howe International Bridge, and the International Bridge.Gleason also talks about a separate motion adopted by the Authority in opposition to Senate bills 1014 and 1078 concerning the transport of farm equipment across the bridge on I-75. The motion reads:"I move that the Board agree that the MBA's Bridge Director and this Board's Special Committee acted in good faith by thoroughly evaluating whether the proposed bills regarding farm implements could be modified to become bills that this Board could support. In the end, these individuals determined that the proposed bills and variations of them, if signed into law, would compromise the structural integrity and operations of the Mackinac Bridge and the safety of motorists who travel on the Bridge. They accordingly recommend, for these reasons, that the Board oppose the proposed bills or variations of them. I so move for the Board's agreement and support."
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Brian Travis, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) project manager on the I-96 Flex Route in western Oakland County. The $269 million project, allowing for the use of shoulders as travel lanes during peak travel times, is MDOT’s second use of the traffic innovation. In 2016 and 2017, contractors built the first phase of a Flex Route, a $125 million investment on US-23 north of Ann Arbor. A project is in design now for a second phase, at an estimated cost of $146 million, to extend the Flex Route from north of 8 Mile Road to I-96. Travis says the Oakland County project is on schedule and talks about the three-year timeline. He also touts the safety and efficiency benefits the added capacity during peak travel hours will provide.  Funding for this project is made possible by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Rebuilding Michigan program to rebuild the state highways and bridges that are critical to the state's economy and carry the most traffic. The investment strategy is aimed at fixes that result in longer useful lives and improves the condition of the state's infrastructure. 
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations with three people recently promoted to major leadership roles at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). First, Beckie Curtis, who is the incoming director of the Bureau of Bridges and Structures, talks about her career path to civil engineering, what she’s learned along the way and why she is especially passionate about bridges. Having worked with bridges for more than 21 years, with 15 of those with MDOT, Curtis has served the department as a load rating engineer and bridge management engineer before becoming the deputy chief bridge engineer in 2018. In this position, she served as the administrator for the Office of Structure Preservation and Management and led the teams responsible for the National Bridge Inspection Program and Structure Preservation. Curtis discusses the importance of asset management and how she will face the challenges of trying to maintain safe structures after decades of under-investment in transportation in Michigan. Later, Demetrius “Dee” Parker, who has been named director of the Bureau of Development, talks about the various positions he’s held at MDOT and how they prepared him for the new post, overseeing everything from the design of road projects to acquisition of real estate, and permitting billboards. Parker has worked for the department for almost 30 years and brings a diverse background to the position and has more than 20 years of managerial experience in a variety of roles:•         Served for the past three years as the University Region engineer.•         Previously appointed as the Southwest Region engineer, administrator of the Contract Services Division, and manager of the Jackson Transportation Service Center. The final segment features a conversation with Brad Wieferich, who has been named MDOT’s chief operations officer and chief engineer. He recalls how he began to explore civil engineering at the suggestion of a high school physics teacher.  Wieferich also talks about how his decades of experience with MDOT, and in the private sector, prepared him for the new position. Beginning in 1995, he held positions in MDOT's Bay, University, and Southwest regions. He also served as engineer of design and then director of the Bureau of Development.
In response to a dramatic increase in speeding drivers beginning with the pandemic stay-at-home advisories in 2020 and continuing now, traffic safety experts and law enforcement officials are working to understand the behavior. On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Carol Flannagan, director of the Center for Management of Information for Safe and Sustainable Transportation (CMISST) at the  University of Michigan (UM) and research professor at UM's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), talks about her research and theories about the epidemic of speeding and other risky behavior. This comes as the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are once again partnering on a regional traffic safety campaign. As noted in their news release: "As part of the 'Great Lakes, High Stakes' campaign, dozens of municipal, county and Michigan State Police (MSP) law enforcement agencies across Michigan will focus on speeding drivers between June 18 and 26." Among other topics, Flannagan talks about the challenging decisions for auto manufacturers in rolling out automated vehicle (AV) technology. She acknowledges that it's much easier for AVs to communicate and predict what other vehicles will do rather than what humans will do. She also discusses: Effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement and impacts on driver behavior.Crash stats. From 2011 to 2019, fatalities were flat, but in July 2020 the rate of speeding-related fatalities spiked.Frontal automatic emergency braking is effective, reducing frontal crashes by 50 percent.Manufacturers have been shifting from warning systems for drivers to automatic systems, which is much more effective. Also discussed, the resistance and challenges to acceptance of Advance Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and projections for broad adoption. Just this week, the NHTSA released data on the topic, but there are concerns about context. And a reference to a supercut video of Elon Musk predicting the timeframe for broad deployment of AV technology. Podcast photo: Carol A. Flannagan, Ph.D., Research Professor, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Bill Hamilton, a senior transportation funding analyst at the Michigan House Fiscal Agency (HFA). As negotiations proceed on Michigan state government’s fiscal year 2023 budget, Hamilton explains the challenges and how things are unique with a needed infusion of federal dollars through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), following relief from federal pandemic funds. Hamilton also talks about the IIJA’s impact in Michigan. This analysis breaks down the benefits to states.  Acknowledging Michigan’s decades of underinvestment in transportation infrastructure, he talks about the history of the discussion and the reasons why it has been so difficult for Michigan policymakers to agree on a long-term and sustainable funding solution.  Other relevant links: A primer on the legislative act that lays out the funding formula for roads in Michigan at the state, county and city/village levels An HFA fiscal brief: MTF Distribution Formula to Local Road Agencies Perspective from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments 
The fuel tax has long been the preferred method of funding road building and repair in the United States, as this brief history outlines. That has been the case in Michigan for nearly a century, with fees for registering vehicles also contributing to the funding pool. A recent study on mileage-based user fees (MBUF) observes that the gas tax was a benefits tax based on the users-pay/users-benefit principle, meaning the tax is paid in proportion to the benefits received. Someone who drives a lot receives more benefit from the roads than someone who drives less frequently. People who drive more also put more stress on the pavement. The study, completed by the Reason Foundation and the Michigan-based Mackinac Center, provides an outline for how to rethink road funding, in light of diminishing returns from fuel taxes as fuel economy improves and major automakers shift to building more electric vehicles.On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Baruch Feigenbaum, senior managing director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, talks about the study. Later, Aarne Frobom, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan Department of Transportation, offers his perspective.Among discussion points: ·      Is it time to rethink transportation funding and treat roads as public utilities with a similar rate-making process?·      Would an MBUF be subject to periodic increases when justified by increased operating and capital costs, via a public process? ·      What’s in it for the driver? ·      How many old systems of assessing fees and taxes would this alleviate?·      Could this finally separate road-user fees from fuel prices?The discussion comes as Section 615 of House Bill 5791 asks MDOT to conduct a study of the feasibility of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as a basis for transportation funding in replacement of motor fuel taxes. 
On Thursday, June 2, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced Thursday in Michigan $368 million in rail infrastructure and safety grants to 46 projects in 32 states, with about $30 million flowing to Michigan. On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Peter Anastor, who directs the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail, talks about the economic benefits to the rail companies and businesses they serve. Buttigieg made the case for the grants in an op/ed published in the Detroit Free Press: President Biden tasked us with strengthening our supply chains, speeding the movement of people and goods, increasing production, and helping usher in newer, cleaner and cheaper energy - all of which will lower costs for families. And thanks to the president’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have the resources we need to do just that. The grants include $21.3 million for a proposed project to improve track and rail assets operated by the Great Lakes Central Railroad just north of Ann Arbor, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The second grant of up to $8.7 million will go to the West Michigan Railroad Co. to pay for infrastructure improvements on roughly 10 miles of track in southwest Michigan. Anastor also discusses other exciting improvements going on with passenger rail service in Michigan, including ongoing enhancements on the Detroit-Chicago corridor to increase speeds to 110 mph. Elsewhere, advocacy continues for Traverse City-to-Ann Arbor passenger rail service.
 On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations about an announcement by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of electric vehicle charging infrastructure installations at Michigan state parks. First, Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, explains why several Michigan state agencies are collaborating with private industry to provide charging options along the Lake Michigan shore for travelers from in and out of state.The announcement follows last year’s roll out by the governor of plans for a Lake Michigan Electric Vehicle Circuit.In his role with the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, Pawl works hard to bring together private industry and government officials to find solutions to mobility challenges, including range anxiety.Pawl explains why Rivian, an electric vehicle maker and automotive technology company, under an operating agreement between Adopt a Charger and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, will be providing open-network, Level 2 Rivian Waypoints chargers at no cost to the state or taxpayers. He also underscores how identifying creative partnerships and opportunities can help with significant progress “in creating a safer, more equitable and environmentally conscious transportation future for all Michiganders.” Later, Ed Golder, director of communications at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, explains how the partnership will work. He also talks about why it makes sense, given the number of people who visit Michigan state parks each year. He says visits to the parks soared during the pandemic and officials expect the trend to continue.From the governor’s news release on the announcement:From Warren Dunes State Park in the southwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, north along the Lake Michigan “gold coast” and additional points inland, an estimated total of 30 chargers are scheduled to be installed as part of the first phase of the project with the next installations beginning in summer and continuing through the year. “This project will not only benefit Michigan in the near term but will also pay dividends far into the future as we move toward a sustainable energy future,” DNR Director Dan Eichinger said. “From these EV charging stations, to installations of solar arrays that power fish hatcheries and other facilities, to building with mass timber and our innovative carbon sequestration development, we are working to improve the environment as we update our own portfolio.” “Today’s announced partnership between the DNR and Adopt a Charger fits nicely with MDOT's goal to enhance connectivity," said Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba. "This also compliments the ongoing work by MDOT and our colleagues in other state departments to deliver on a vision for a Lake Michigan Electric Vehicle Circuit.”Podcast photo: Electric vehicle charging options being installed at a State Park along Lake Michigan. 
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a discussion about the inspection and maintenance of aging bridges in the wake of a report of a man falling through a pedestrian bridge over a freeway in Detroit. Matt Chynoweth, chief bridge engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), joins the podcast to explain the federal guidelines for the inspection and rating of all bridges on the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) and how his team works with other road agencies and contractors to ensure bridges are safe. The MDOT website includes an interactive feature that shows the location of bridges across the state along with information about age, condition and the date of the last inspection. A newly added page  provides inspection data on more than 70 Detroit-area pedestrian bridges over state trunkline routes. Chynoweth underscores, again, that if any bridge, whether it carries vehicles or pedestrians, is found to be a danger, it will be closed. In the wake of a bridge collapse in Pittsburgh earlier this year, reporting focused on national bridge conditions. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), one in three U.S. bridges either needs repairs or to be replaced.   Chynoweth echoes what many others have said: The lack of bridge funding is part of a broader problem with underinvestment in our transportation system. Michigan's per-capita transportation spending has lagged behind other Midwest states for decades. This has compounded the challenge of upgrading our bridge conditions. How big is the challenge? MDOT estimates it would require $2 billion just to get all state-owned bridges up to good or fair condition, and another $1.5 billion for local agency owned bridges.Podcast photo of a pedestrian bridge in Detroit.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, an update on Rebuilding Michigan road and bridge projects across the state as the 2022 construction season begins in earnest.First, Gregg Brunner, director of MDOT’s Bureau of Field Services, talks about how the department, consultants, and contractors mitigated challenges from spring weather as well as supply chains and labor availability. He also offers progress reports on several high-profile road projects. Later, MDOT Finance Director Patrick McCarthy makes a repeat appearance to outline the Rebuilding Michigan bonding program and explain how it benefits the state. Brunner talks about several high-profile projects that involve completely rebuilding busy segments of freeways including: I-96 Flex Route in western Oakland County,I-275 in western Wayne County, I-69 near Flint,I-94 in Jackson, which includes installation of a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) at US-127, the third DDI in Michigan, andI-196 west of Grand Rapids in Ottawa County. In his overview of the bonding program, McCarthy explains why the ratings agencies looked so favorably on the sales and how they sold at a premium. He also explains how, with recent increases in the costs of materials and labor, MDOT’s issuance of the first rounds of bonds were especially timely and produced even more savings than previously expected. Looking in the bond sales also helped avoid some of the increases from inflation.Podcast photo: I-69/I-475 interchange Rebuilding Michigan project in Flint.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations with two academics studying the effect of safety messages on driver behavior. First, Joshua Madsen, a professor of accounting and behavioral economics at the University of Minnesota, talks about a research report he co-authored — and highlighted in the Journal Science — that examined whether highway signs displaying traffic deaths reduce crashes. In the second segment, Jerry Ullman, a senior research engineer at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, talks about a perspective he wrote to accompany the story in Science. Madsen explains how he first encountered the messages while driving in Illinois and was struck by the starkness of the numbers. He wondered about context and how the numbers were derived. As outlined in the story: "Researchers focused on Texas, which consistently displayed the messages for one week every   month on 880 signs across the state’s highways. Researchers gathered data on all traffic crashes that happened on affected roads between 2010 and 2017. They compared crashes that occurred in weeks when fatality stats were displayed with those that happened during the rest of the month, taking care to compare only the accidents that happened at the same hour and on the same day of the week. They also controlled for weather and for holidays, which can independently affect the number of crashes. "While conceding the difficulty of researching these topics, determining cause and affect and discerning what and when messages can influence behavior, Madsen cites one initiative with resonance: placing the wreckage of vehicles, which had been driven by a teenager, at rest areas. During his segment, Ullman talks about whether the effect of higher fatality numbers is plausible and questioned whether drivers are really processing larger and smaller death rates differently. He says he would like to see more research on the cause of the increase.  Ullman also talks about the importance of message design and other research on how optimism bias informs our judgment. Podcast player photo: MDOT Dynamic Message Sign board displaying a safety message.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations with two State of Michigan officials about the announcement of an agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) to work together and develop programs for more sustainable and equitable travel to NPS lands. The announcement coincided with other Earth Week events across the state and featured a visit from Charles F. Sams III, who was sworn in Dec. 16, 2021, as NPS director, the first tribal citizen to lead the service in its 106-year history. (Video story of the event.) First, Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, explains the potential opportunities from the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) announced Tuesday, April 19, between NPS and several state departments. Some of the possibilities include installing more charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, something NPS has already begun. Later, Jean Ruestman, who directs MDOT’s Office of Passenger Transportation and a key player in developing the MOU, joins the podcast to talk about the potential to provide broader accessibility to the parks. She also explains how the Michigan Mobility Challenge, highlighted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019, could provide a model for inspiring ideas to increase access to the national parks. Podcast photo: Morning fog in Yellowstone River Valley. National Park Service photo by Neal Herbert.
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