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Special Report: Highway Headache: Part 1

Updated: Saturday, August 3, 2013 |
Special Report: Highway Headache: Part 1 story image
WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The stretch of I-94 from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek is one of the busiest stretches of road in the entire state.  There are often big  traffic tie-ups, bad accidents and road shutdowns. It's the one road we all hate to be on.  In fact some have told us, they even fear driving on it.

So the I-Team started asking questions about future expansion of the road. For four months we investigated whether our leaders have a plan of action for I-94 expansion. But as we found in this, the politics of today are stopping the progress of tomorrow.

Part of the danger with this road is congestion. The numbers we found are astonishing. The freeway at it's busiest near Kalamazoo carries close to 10,000 trucks per day. That's close to double the normal daily truck traffic on any road in Grand Rapids and is very close to the amount of truck traffic coming out of Detroit. Up to 90,000 total vehicles per day between Kalamazoo and Battle creek make I-94 the busiest four-lane highway in the state of Michigan.

This winter there were many bad accidents causing closures and often chaos for commuters.

The congested, slimmed-down road is also causing problems for our leaders to pitch our area to companies looking to locate in West Michigan.

"We know companies have told us that that issue not being six lanes across the state is absolutely in their decision stream," Southwest Michigan First CEO Ron Kitchens said.

Some work's already been done on I-94.  The interchanges at Westnedge Avenue and at U.S. 131 are complete but so much work is left to be done.

So is there any plan to expand considering the new bridge to Canada is planned to be built? There's been talk for 20 years and there's even an I-94 committee within M-DOT but we found that committee is not looking at expansion. The focus instead is patching problems to get the most out of what's available.

Well the I-Team found the folks in Detroit aren't just thinking of patching. There are plans for a major reconstruction of I-94 through Detroit, a $1.6 billion dollar shovel-ready project. Folks on our side of the state aren't anywhere close to being shovel-ready for our bottleneck.  We found there's a reason for it. Instead of innovating and imagining, many just feel defeated before they can ever get started.

"Your chances of getting something through the federal government is tough," Sen. Mike Nofs (R) Battle Creek. I think that's where the defeatist attitude is coming from personally."

"Things are divisive so we're in a culture that doesn't lend itself to the kind of collaboration it would take," M-DOT spokesman Nick Schirripa said.

Governor Rick Snyder is trying to get some more road funding now. He's asking lawmakers to approve more than $1 billion just to fix our roads, not expand them. That extra revenue request isn't going over real well with lawmakers in both parties because nobody wants to raise taxes.

"That's where you should talk to your legislator about coming forward with a plan being involved in this process," Governor Snyder told us.

Governor Snyder's take on I-94 expansion: "If you stop and look at it without these resources, there's virtually no way there would be any consideration for that"

For a list of billion dollar projects around the country, click here.

For average daily traffic maps for Michigan, click here.
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