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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.
60 Episodes
This week, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began debating a $547 billion highway bill, which, among other things, resurrects an old practice: the use of member earmarks for projects. On this week's podcast, Susan Howard, program director for transportation finance of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, talks about the process, the pros and cons, and what else we can expect.In the second segment, Matt Chynoweth, chief bridge engineer at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), talks about the largest dollar amount targeted for Michigan, a $20 million earmark for the Miller Road/Rotunda Drive bridge in Dearborn. First, Howard talks about the highway reauthorization legislation, titled the INVEST in America Act, and the differences in today's earmarks versus those of the past, mostly provisions for transparency. There is a cap on the number of projects members can submit per fiscal year and they must provide evidence their communities support the earmarks they submit. Also, any member submitting a request must post it online at the same time they submit their proposal to the Appropriations Committee.Howard also talks about the status of separate negotiations for President Biden's American Jobs Plan and what happens now that talks broke off between the president and the Senate Republicans' top negotiator, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. Talks have resumed with a bipartisan group of senators. Michigan projects Most Michigan Congressional representatives included some projects in the bill. In addition to the Miller Road/Rotunda Drive bridge submitted by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, requested $14.7 million to rebuild the US-131 interchange with US-131 Business Route in Kalamazoo, and U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, sought $10 million to rebuild M-46 and M-19 in Oscoda County. U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, included some local street projects for the city of Grand Rapids. MDOT's Chynoweth explains the bridge bundling concept and the work needed on the Miller Road/Rotunda Drive bridge. Because of the bridge's vital role supporting the Ford Rouge plant, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has highlighted the need for rebuilding it. The balance of the $60 million needed to replace the bridge would come from the governor's $300 million local bridge bundling proposal. Other components of the bill would support electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The bill also would authorize $750 million annually over four years for MDOT to award funding to remediate, retrofit or even remove transportation facilities to restore mobility or access within "disadvantaged and underserved communities." The Detroit News explains why I-375 in Detroit is such an example. Other references: Episode photo: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tours the Miller Rd/Rotunda Dr bridge near the Ford Motor Co. River Rouge complex and I-94 in Dearborn.
This week, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters joins the podcast to talk about his advocacy for President Biden’s comprehensive infrastructure proposal, The American Jobs Plan. Peters is traveling the state to advocate for the administration’s plan. He was in Grand Rapids Wednesday for conversations with a number of representatives involved in various components of infrastructure, including MDOT Director Paul Ajegba, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Anthony Tuttle of the West Michigan Cybersecurity Consortium, Erin Kuhn of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission and a member of the Michigan Infrastructure Council, and Laurel Joseph of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council.  The senator recorded the podcast following the Grand Rapids event Wednesday. He participated in a similar event in Lansing on Thursday.  Peters discussed the ongoing negotiations and whether reconciliation was an option. Meanwhile, the president met again this week with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito to broker a compromise and floated another $1 trillion plan on Thursday as outlined in a Wall Street Journal story (Subscription). The reporting indicated that under the president’s suggestion, the biggest companies would pay a minimum corporate tax of 15 percent, according to people briefed on the matter. Unlike Mr. Biden’s proposed corporate tax-rate increase to 28 percent or changes to taxes on U.S. companies’ foreign income, the minimum tax wouldn’t directly reverse the 2017 law.  In the roundtable conversations, Peters pointed out that we can save more money if we invest in infrastructure now than we will if we push off investments. In fact, the senator mentioned that for every dollar invested in infrastructure, you end up saving close to $7 of taxpayer money in the long run. He pointed to the Gordie Howe International Bridge as an example of investments up front that pay big dividends in the future because of the importance to the economies in Michigan and Canada. MDOT photo: Senator Peters and MDOT Director Paul Ajegba at a round table event in Lansing. 
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, talks about what tourism industry officials expect as pandemic restrictions are relaxed and Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer vacation season. While travel is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels, AAA forecasts 1.1 million Memorial Day weekend travelers in Michigan this year, a 57 percent increase from 2020. AAA says most Michigan travel from May 27 to 31 will be by car, leading to busy roads.   To aid safe travel, the Michigan Department of Transportation will once again suspend work and lift lane closures where possible on road and bridge projects across the state. A list of active projects is available on the Mi Drive website.  Lorenz is enthusiastic about the travel forecast and what it will mean to tourist sites across the state. But he also talks about the challenges coming out of the pandemic, especially hiring enough workers to meet the demands of restaurants, hotels and resorts. Lorenz emphasizes the need for patience as people train and learn new jobs.  Nikki Devitt, president of the Petoskey Chamber of Commerce, underscored that in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.  “It’s still going to be the same beautiful place you love,” Devitt said. "But we ask that you bring with you a little patience and grace. And understand that you may have to wait a little bit longer, that some hours may be different. But that small business needs you so that they can continue to be here for years to come."  Lorenz also discusses the toll the closing of the border with Canada, now at 14 months, has taken on Michigan’s tourism industry.   Other references: 
In the wake of a presidential visit to the Dearborn Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center and a subsequent announcement about production of the all-electric F-150 Lightning truck, this week’s podcast examines charging infrastructure in Michigan. In the first segment, Aarne Frobom, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan Department of Transportation who has been studying a package of bills related to electric vehicle charging stations, offers some historical perspective on efforts to provide commercial services at state-owned rest areas. Later, Michigan Chief Mobility Officer Trevor Pawl, who was on hand for President Biden's visit Tuesday, talks about Ford’s plans for the F-150 Lightning and what the state is doing to support what we know will be increasing demand for charging stations. While discussions of installing electric vehicle charging stations at rest areas is relatively new, the debate about the use of those rest areas is as old as the roads themselves. As E&E News put it in a 2019 story: "When Congress passed the law that enabled the interstate highway network in 1956, it banned almost all economic activity at rest stops, including anything that aided motorists. That was the result of lobbying from businessmen near the highway who worried that the rest stop would be an irresistible draw." Frobom talks about the discussion over the years at the state and federal levels and recounts MDOT's long-ago efforts to work with private entities to offer services on a state-owned site. He also discusses the differences between electric vehicle charging stations (electricity comes from government-regulated public utilities) and traditional gas stations, sharing some insight from the book The Gas Station in America. He explains how as the automobile grew into a national phenomenon in the early 20th century, competition between gasoline companies prompted them to engage in “place-product-packaging,” which involved incorporating the entire gas station design into a brand name. In Pawl’s segment, recorded Wednesday afternoon, the focus is on President Biden’s visit to the Ford Rouge plant Tuesday and anticipation of the official reveal of the F-150 Lightning, which happened Wednesday evening. The president talked about the history of the Rouge Complex and how the facility is making history again. Pawl explains why Detroit is at the epicenter of transformational change again, and why it is vital for the state to support development of more electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  He pointed to policy issues that he said need to be addressed and the importance of working with other states. Other links: image courtesy of Joenomias on Pixabay.
Why I got my shot!

Why I got my shot!


On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with three people who participated in an MDOT public service announcement, explaining why they received a COVID-19 vaccine and think others should, too. First, Kim Henderson, who manages MDOT’s Graphic Design and Mapping Unit, talks about why she felt it was important, as a Black woman, to share her testimonial. She has been volunteering at Union Missionary Baptist Church in Lansing to help promote the need to get vaccinated. She also served on the Covid Help Team for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), completing daily case reports and directing calls to individuals that tested positive for Covid statewide. Next, Aaron Jenkins, MDOT media relations representative for the University Region, comprising the counties around Lansing, Ann Arbor and Jackson, shares his reasons for getting vaccinated and being an advocate for others to do the same - from wanting to hug his grandchildren to feeling the need to be an example in the community. Jenkins and Henderson reference the historical reasons for distrust of government and health care officials among some Black people, including the horrors of the Tuskegee Experiment.  The third guest, Melissa Greif, a financial analyst in MDOT’s Gaylord-based North Region, talks about her experience being infected with COVID-19. She details the mental and physical discomfort she experienced and how she hopes her story inspires others to pursue vaccination and avoid the same symptoms. Photo courtesy of the National Cancer Institute on Unsplash. Image shows a nurse administering a COVID-19 shot.
On Tuesday, Michigan hosted the National Work Zone Awareness Week event in the midst of a Rebuilding Michigan project on M-59 in Macomb County. On this week's Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with Stephanie Boileau, county highway engineer for the Chippewa County Road Commission and president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).Boileau was among the speakers at Tuesday's event, joining Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, MDOT Director Paul Ajegba, Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper, Leslie Fonzi-Lynch (the mother of a fallen worker), and other advocates for road worker safety. Boileau talks about her personal connection to the issue in previous jobs, having lost colleagues in work zone crashes. She also emphasizes the need to engage lawmakers in discussions about work zone policies and laws.  Fonzi-Lynch spoke poignantly about her son, Brandyn Spychalski, a road worker injured in a crash in 2017. He died in 2020 from the injuries he suffered. Other references: This year's work zone safety public service announcement, in memory of the five workers killed in Michigan work zones in 2020. Andy's Law, named for Andrew Lefko, who was paralyzed after being struck by a vehicle while working on I-275 in 1999. He was 19 years old, and it was his first day on the job. Andrew died in 2018. Video from the live stream of Tuesday's event.
In recognition of Earth Day, this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features a conversation with Margaret Barondess, who manages the environmental section at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).More than 50 years ago, Congress adopted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Barondess reflects and explains how the act informs planning for transportation projects in Michigan and MDOT’s efforts to at once protect our air, waterways, wildlife, and plants and minimize inconvenience to travelers.  While critics of NEPA have argued for scaling back the need for environmental impact statements, supporters tout NEPA’s role in saving money, time, lives, historical sites, endangered species, and public lands while encouraging compromise and cultivating better projects with more public support. Barondess also talks about the challenges and rewards she and her team have experienced in recent years from listening to community members who would be affected by a project like the I-94 modernization project in Detroit and the I-75 Corridor Conservation Action Plan in Monroe County. Among specific endangered species in Michigan is the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.Other references:The Detroit Free Press this week ranked invasive species in Michigan. (Subscription)The Natural Resources Defense Council on the imperative of maintaining NEPA.Creative MDOT efforts to support Michigan’s critical bee population with sun flowers along freeways. Some creative solutions to protect wildlife and political theater.  
On this week's Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Doug Hecox, acting director of public affairs at the Federal Highway Administration, shares his insights on the origins of interstate highways and wrestles with unanswerable questions about the future.  Hecox likes to remind people that the Interstate Highway System is "the largest human-built thing in the world."The discussion ranges from the debate about President Biden's proposed infrastructure plan to why it has always been difficult for policymakers to agree on how to fund transportation systems, to what the ongoing development of connected and automated vehicles will mean to highway capacity. This includes a discussion about the president and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's emphasis on racial, social and environmental justice. We cannot right the wrongs but the history needs to inform future decisions.Hecox explains why he's a champion of the decision to invest in the Interstate Highway System. He also underscores why it is important for future planning that the highways accommodate the people they are supposed to serve.The conversation also touches on the history of the Good Roads movement and how cyclists, not drivers, advocated to pave roads. Such was the case in Michigan and the work of Horatio S. Earle, Michigan's first state transportation director.Other references:—     President Lincoln's patent (the only U.S. president to obtain one) and how it benefitted transportation.—     Companies continue to experiment with driverless delivery vehicles, including Michigan-based Domino's Pizza.This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and work to create the Interstate Highway System. 
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation, a conversation with Andy Doctoroff about his op-ed published in the Detroit Free Press examining President Biden’s American Jobs Plan in the context of historic investments in U.S. infrastructure.  Doctoroff, who has made previous appearances on the podcast in his capacity as the governor’s office’s point person on work to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, teaches a class he developed on infrastructure at the University of Michigan Law School. He talks about how his research for the class informed his column, which recounts the early resistance in our nation’s capitol to central government investments in “internal improvements” and explains the evolution over time in thinking.Acknowledging the challenges President Biden faces, Doctoroff writes: “Never has a Congress as closely divided as this one is, in a country so polarized, passed a major piece of infrastructure legislation. … Congressional enactment of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan would, in one unprecedented stroke, reverse the United States’ centuries-long and rarely interrupted history of underfunding public works.”Other references:—     The 2021 “report card” issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers.—     Forbes commentary on President Lincoln’s inspiration for President Biden on an infrastructure plan. —     A 2019 report from the U.S. House Committee on the Budget was based on hearings with several experts concluding the U.S. spends far too little on infrastructure.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, analysis and speculation about what President Biden is likely to include in his much-anticipated proposal to address the nation’s inadequate and crumbling infrastructure.  Lloyd Brown, director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), returns to the podcast to talk about what he’s hearing.  Will “Infrastructure Week” move from punchline to serious discussion with results? The Biden administration signaled an intention to roll out tangible ideas, indicating with Monday’s announcement to expand offshore wind turbines that infrastructure means more than roads and bridges.  We know U.S. Department of Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg has been working a lot of rooms, speaking with Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. That plays to his strength as a collegial broker and strong communicator. And as a policy wonk, there is no doubt he’s quickly getting up to speed on the issues. Is this too much pressure?  In an interview with CNBC, Sec. Pete talked about why infrastructure offers a solid return on investment.   Other links and references from this week’s show:  Forbes on what we know now about the president’s plan. Roll Call on a discussion about restoring earmarks.  The Wall Street Journal (subscription) on the president’s push for offshore wind projects. 
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a followup to previous conversations about why fatal crashes have increased despite traffic volumes declining substantially during the pandemic.  Following up on previous episodes featuring a number of Michigan experts on the topic, this week’s conversation features a perspective from a neighboring state. Michael Hanson, director of Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety, joins the podcast after an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. (Kudos to Hanson for emphasizing driver responsibility and why these are crashes and not “accidents.”) Preliminary numbers indicate 1,032 people died from crashes on Michigan roads in 2020, while the number was 985 in 2019. This, despite traffic volumes being down as much as 60 percent in the weeks immediately following stay-home advisories from the outbreak and remaining down around 20 percent through the rest of the year. With many fewer vehicles on the roads and reduced congestion, Hanson echoes the analysis of other experts about eye-popping speeds. Hanson also talks about what law enforcement officers are seeing in Minnesota, which mirrors observations from law enforcement officers in Michigan.  In Minnesota, Hanson talks about the axiom that speed kills and says authorities are tackling the problem with some creative initiatives.
On Thursday, just a day after final passage in the House of a historic pandemic relief and stimulus bill, President Joe Biden signed it into law.  The bill includes billions for airlines, transit agencies and Amtrak to help with some deep losses suffered the past year. On this week's edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Susan Howard, program director for transportation finance at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), talks about the transportation components of the bill. Later, she offers her take on negotiations as the president stakes his presidency on adopting an ambitious infrastructure plan. The stimulus bill will extend payroll support to airlines, helping to prevent layoffs of more than 27,000 workers when the current program expires at the end of March. It also would provide $8 billion in support to U.S. airports. Transit agencies across the country will see $30.5 billion in grants to help make up for dramatic losses in ridership. Amtrak would receive about $2 billion. In a January report, the American Public Transit Association (APTA) said public transit ridership dropped by nearly 80 percent in April 2020 and remained more than 60 percent below 2019 levels through the rest of the year. And these are essential workers who often cannot work remotely and rely on transit to get to their jobs. Howard explains why the parameters of the stimulus bill confined the transportation funding to air, rail and transit services. Now, attention turns to President Biden's hopes for what has eluded his predecessors in recent history: a truly comprehensive infrastructure bill. Howard echoes the analysis of others about how the fuel tax offers diminishing returns, especially as General Motors, Ford and other automakers stake their companies’ futures on electric vehicles. Despite the cliché about how infrastructure enjoys bipartisan support, that ends when talk turns to funding and revenue. Will this time be different? And can the president and his USDOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg come up with something that pleases labor leaders and environmentalists?   Writing in the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer argues that "in little-noticed ways, the rescue bill is going to reshape several areas of American climate policy."
While the nation’s roads continue to decline, improvements in rail and some other categories raised the nation’s overall infrastructure grade to C-, a very modest improvement from the D+ grade in the 2017 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Andy Herrmann, a professional engineer, past president of ASCE and a member of the report card committee since 2001, says he is optimistic that Congress can agree on an infrastructure package. He echoed U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who told the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) last week, "I'm looking forward to a day when infrastructure week is no longer a groundhog's day joke but something that delivers investments to the American People."In 11 of the report card's 17 categories, the grade was in the ‘D’ range: aviation, dams, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks, roads, schools, stormwater, transit, and wastewater.The study concluded that, overall, the long-term investment gap continues to grow as we lose value in our infrastructure. That gap grew from $2.1 trillion over 10 years in the last report to $2.6 trillion, meaning the need now is $259 billion per year.In terms of funding solutions, Herrmann explained why he thinks a shift away from the fuel tax and to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) makes the most sense. In his remarks to AASHTO, Secretary Buttigieg suggested a usage levy is necessary.A Tax Foundation report in August 2020 thoroughly explores the VMT option, observing that only three states raise enough dedicated transportation revenue to fund transportation spending. The last Michigan-specific report card, in 2018, assigned a D- grade to roads and gave the state a D overall for infrastructure. That report concluded, simply, that "Michigan's infrastructure is old and outdated. We're now faced with pothole-ridden roads, bridges propped with temporary supports, sinkholes destroying homes, and closed beaches." The report highlighted Michigan's 21st Century Infrastructure Commission conclusion that an additional $4 billion annually is needed to maintain our infrastructure."Michigan must support innovative policies leading to cleaner water, smoother highways, and a safe environment that will attract business and improve our quality of life," the report said. View a nationwide map of Dedicated Transportation Tax Revenue, fiscal year 2017.
In observance and reflection on Black History Month, this week’s podcast features conversations with two people who served the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for four decades.First, Myron Frierson, who retired as MDOT director of the Bureau of Finance in 2019, talks about what he learned during his career in transportation, working on the administration of contracts. He later worked on property acquisitions in MDOT’s Real Estate division and eventually returned to Finance.He talks about ascending to head an MDOT division when he was only in his early 30s. He oversaw financial operations, including accounting, budget planning, distributing federal funds to local road agencies, and other policies. He recalls many days early on when he was the only minority in a meeting. But he says the state and MDOT helped advance women and minorities in management and launch careers elsewhere.Being a good listener was a key to his success, he says, and something he encouraged as a mentor.“Try to understand a person’s rationale for making a particular decision.”Later, Rita Screws relates her nearly 40 years of experiences in transportation, coming to MDOT as a youth employee, thinking she would pursue other careers. As she wrote in an essay about her experience:"My first co-op season started in May 1982… almost 39 years ago! When I accepted the offer for the general engineer position in June 1984, my thoughts were, 'I might as well work for MDOT now and take my time exploring other career options.' That was my plan. Oh, well; there are plans we have for ourselves, and there are plans the Giver of Life has for us. They often are not the same!"Proud of being born and raised in Detroit, she talks about spending her professional career in the city. Working on projects in construction and ascending to be the manager of the Detroit Transportation Service Center, Rita felt an obligation to knock down the myths and perceptions about Detroit.She counts her ability to connect with others and work with people from a variety of backgrounds and interests, regardless of status, as a superpower, helping her mediate and find resolutions to disputes. 
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Matt Chynoweth, chief bridge engineer at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), breaks down a proposal to repair or replace crumbling local bridges across the state.Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is seeking $300 million in a Fiscal Year 2021 supplemental budget request to repair or replace hundreds of local bridges that are closed or in critical condition. Chynoweth explains how MDOT is offering contract and bridge engineering expertise to create economies of scale and how leveraging the design build process will stretch the funding.As the Detroit Free Press observed in extensive reporting, the state has under-funded transportation infrastructure for decades. That is especially apparent in the condition of bridges.Chynoweth also explains jurisdiction and the Federal Highway Administration’s designation of state departments of transportation to ensure inspection protocols are followed by counties, cities and villages in managing their bridges.
Have you heard the names:For Your Ice Only?Gangsta Granny Gritter?Gritallica?Gritty Gritty Bang Bang?Ice Buster? These are not the names of films or rock bands. These are monikers for Gritters, which is what our friends in Scotland call snowplows. On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation, recorded Jan. 26, Iain McDonald joins the conversation from Perth, Scotland. McDonald works with ice 24/7/365, at Transport Scotland by day and, when off duty, as a producer of gin at The Perth Distillery Co. Transport Scotland’s initiative to name the snow fleet generated worldwide attention, especially on Twitter. McDonald explains that the idea to name the vehicles came from frequent questions about when there would be a snowstorm and people would say, “We never see a gritter on the road.” So, the “Trunk Road Gritter Tracker" was born. Naming the plows makes it easy for people to follow their location and progress and make decisions about what roads are clear and salted before embarking on a journey. McDonald talks about how his team prepares for snow events, especially the all-hands-on-deck Beast from the East.  The popularity of labeling the plows in Scotland inspired others, including the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). In the second segment, MDOT’s Nick Schirripa and Courtney Bates join the podcast to talk about the launch here. Bates tells us that as of late January members of the public have submitted nearly 12,000 ideas for plow names. As a website administrator working to keep the Mi Drive site up to date, she sees the naming initiative as a way to highlight all the features, including tracking the plows but also viewing real-time information about crashes, road work or other slowdowns, as well as camera images. Schirripa tells Fox 2 in Detroit that Plowy McPlowface and Sir Saltsalot were among the top nominations here. He also emphasizes there are not only educational and safety benefits from the project, but this also pays tribute to the people who brave the storms and clear the roads day and night.
On this edition of Talking Michigan Transportation, Lloyd Brown joins the conversation again to discuss what we learned from the Jan. 21 Senate confirmation hearing for Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg.Brown, director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, says the mostly amicable hearing and bipartisan respect for Buttigieg reflects the former South Bend mayor’s skill at building relationships.In fact, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, called Buttigieg’s testimony "damn refreshing.""You have put on a clinic for how a nominee should… act," Tester said. "You haven't avoided the questions. You've been straightforward. And you know what the hell you're talking about."Buttigieg’s hearing comes during a time of renewed optimism for a long-term infrastructure initiative. Observers have heard that before with bipartisan agreement that our nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure need work but no such agreement on how to generate more revenue.Still, speaking on the New York Times "The Argument" podcast, Jared Bernstein, an economic adviser to President Biden, said he heard a desire to get something done on infrastructure from some Republican lawmakers during the previous administration. "There are lots of Republicans who would like to invest in infrastructure, but Trump never had a plan," Bernstein said. "They said they had a plan. It was an asterisk. It was meaningless."One idea being discussed would implement a carbon tax to help fund infrastructure. Some business leaders, including a former Dow Chemical CEO, are among the advocates.At his confirmation hearing, Buttigieg spoke of his support for public transportation, complete streets, and called himself a fan of passenger rail."I'm probably the second biggest passenger rail enthusiast in this administration," he said, a reference to President Biden's years of riding Amtrak from Delaware to Washington, D.C.Buttigieg also talked about the country's "auto-centric" history at the expense of other modes, while also putting an emphasis on safety. Safety advocates have noted, however, that candidate Biden’s transportation plan did not include a Vision Zero statement.On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the nation's largest roadway safety coalition and traffic safety leaders sent a letter to the president calling for a commitment to zero deaths by 2050.Photo courtesy of AASHTO.
On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation about why fatal crashes on Michigan roads in 2020 exceeded those in 2019, despite traffic volumes being significantly diminished because of the pandemic.Preliminary numbers indicate 1,032 people died from crashes on Michigan roads in 2020, while the number was 985 in 2019. This, despite traffic volumes being down as much as 60 percent in the weeks immediately following stay-home advisories from the outbreak and remaining down around 20 percent through the rest of the year.With many fewer vehicles on the roads and reduced congestion, experts speculate the open road contributed to higher speeds.First, Michigan State Police Lt. DuWayne Robinson talks about what law enforcement officers are seeing across the state. As he told WWMT-TV in December, troopers had written 69 percent more tickets for excessive speeding, defined as 25 mph or more over the limit.Later, Peter Savolainen, a Michigan State University professor and expert in traffic safety and traffic operations, talks about the impact speeds have on the severity of crashes. He says an age-old challenge confronts engineers who design roads and safety advocates in finding creative ways to alter driver behavior.Savolainen also observes that speeds had been rising in Michigan in previous years: "Some of these concerns are exacerbated by the fact that we did increase speed limits across Michigan back in 2017. Speeds have gone up as a consequence of that. Crashes and fatalities have gone up as well."Because of the pandemic, vehicle miles traveled dropped an unprecedented 264.2 billion miles during the first half of 2020. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that's 17 percent lower than the same period in 2019. NHTSA said deaths as a result of crashes fell 2 percent, but the rate of fatalities rose 18 percent.As the Wall Street Journal observed, "In other words, an inordinate number of people died given how many fewer miles they traveled. It was the highest motor vehicle fatality rate for that span of time in a dozen years."
On this week's Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba talks about some of the big projects completed in 2020 as highlighted in this year-end video. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer celebrated a significant milestone in her Rebuilding Michigan plan when she joined Director Ajegba to tour the first project financed with the bonds. That project rebuilt the aging I-496 freeway between I-96 and Lansing Road in Ingham and Eaton counties. Major work will begin on several other projects to be financed by the governor’s bonding plan in spring 2021. Gov. Whitmer talked about the plan on the podcast in January following the State Transportation Commission's authorization.Also, in early November, Gov. Whitmer joined the director to celebrate the reopening of the busy interchange of I-96, I-196 and East Beltline Avenue east of Grand Rapids. The Flip, as dubbed by the project team, will ease congestion in and out of the city and make for safer transitions between the freeways. As Robb Westaby at Fox17 observed, the new ramp and bridge eliminates the need for drivers to cross three lanes of traffic to get to the East Beltline Avenue exit.Other notable projects in 2020 included rebuilding the 100th Street bridge over US-131 in Kent County, the I-75 modernization project in Oakland County, rebuilding US-131 in St. Joseph County, and rebuilding M-28 in Alger County.The director also explains how Rebuilding Michigan and more aggressive road building is stoking competition in the construction industry, with preliminary evidence of stabilizing bid prices.Other highlights:MDOT inked a contract in August with Cavnue for a first-of-its-kind connected corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor. As Fortune Magazine wrote, “The so-called road of the future, which was announced on Thursday by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, amounts to an ambitious bid to reconceive both transportation and public transit.” On the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, MDOT real estate specialists marked a major milestone by acquiring the final parcels of land needed for construction of the bridge, ramps and plazas. This year-in-review video covers the highlights.
On Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden made official his nomination of Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to head the Department of Transportation. (Video from announcement.)Some of the top associations advocating on transportation policy were quick with statements of support. On this episode, a conversation with an official at one of those organizations. Lloyd Brown, director of communications at the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, talks about their support and what a Buttigieg nomination means. Brown talks about the administration’s promised focus on safety, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable funding for all infrastructure. Also discussed, how Buttigieg can balance an emphasis on safety and Vision Zero, Complete Streets and carbon reduction strategies, with a need for massive recovery in the airline and transit industries because of the pandemic.Will having a dynamic and gifted communicator at the helm raise his profile and the administration’s priorities? A Washington Post story had this to say: "The choice of Buttigieg, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination and has an ardent following among some members of the party, will bring a dash of star power to what is normally a staid, if important, department."Echoing the sentiments about the traditionally low profile of the transportation secretary, one observer, acknowledging that “no politically ambitious little kid dreams of growing up to be the transportation secretary,” explains why Buttigieg is different. On Dec. 15, Governor Gretchen Whitmer released the following statement after President-elect Biden nominated Mayor Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation:“This is great news for our families, our businesses, and our nation’s economy. Every American deserves to drive to work and drop their kids at school safely, without blowing a tire or cracking a windshield. Mayor Buttigieg has shown a deep commitment to getting things done for Americans everywhere, and I know he will work around the clock to fix and protect our nation’s infrastructure. President-Elect Biden has proven once again that he is committed to building an administration that represents the great diversity of our nation, with more women, more people of color, and more members of the LGBTQ+ community at the table. I look forward to working closely with Mayor Buttigieg and the entire Biden Administration to fix the damn roads and protect Michiganders from shelling out hundreds of dollars a year on car repairs. Let’s get to work.”It was notable that the nominees to lead the Transportation and Energy departments were named the same day. Choosing former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signals how important the focus on alternative fuels will be as top automakers shift to building more electric vehicles and transportation agencies develop ways to support charging needs.Podcast photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
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