Royal Oak residents and officials are speaking out against widening I-75 and criticized Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s support of the project as another example of favoring cities in the north of the county.
City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said throwing billions of dollars at massive road projects is killing main streets in towns across the nation and promoting urban sprawl.
“Brooks is calling I-75 ‘Oakland County’s main street,’” DuBuc said. “It makes you want to laugh and cry.”
City Commissioners unanimously supported DuBuc’s resolution Monday against the 20-year, $1 billion project that is set to start in several months and take years to complete.
City Commissioner Dave Poulton called the expansion “a highway to nowhere land in northern Oakland County.”
The plan is to add a lane in both directions of the freeway between M-59 and Eight Mile. Patterson recently announced the impending start of the project, which will repair and widen the freeway between South Boulevard in Auburn Hills and Coolidge Road in Troy.
Royal Oak officials want the city attorney to challenge the legality of any private property sought under eminent domain for the expansion project.
City Attorney Mark Liss said most of the project will be built in the existing right of way. However, some private property in Madison Heights and possibly Royal Oak may be used, officials said.
“We can combine with other cities to fight expansion of I-75,” Liss said.
Royal Oak would have to pay about $4 million toward the cost of the project even though the city opposes the expansion. Other cities such as Troy, Madison Heights and Hazel Park also have to pay a portion of the cost.
“Taxpayers should be outraged,” said City Commissioner Michael Fournier said. “It has no benefit to us and is ultimately destructive to Royal Oak.”
Resident Clyde Esbri and others spoke out against widening I-75, noting car ownership rates are declining and young people no longer see automobiles as the status symbol of previous generations.
“In my mind it’s a colossal waste of money,” Esbri said of the project.
Royal Oak favors a pending state Senate bill introduced by Sen. Marty Knollenberg of Troy that would eliminate the requirement of cities to pay part of the expansion costs.
Other cities such as Detroit, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Oak Park and Southfield are also against the widening project, said City Commissioner Jeremy Marhle.
“It’s not just a couple of small communities” against it, he said.
The expansion is a Michigan Department of Transportation project that was approved nearly three years ago by the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, despite the opposition of Royal Oak and other communities. The environmental impact statement MDOT did for the project dates back to 2005, said City Commissioner Patricia Paruch. She and others noted that driving habits and innovations on the horizon such as self-driving cars also negate the need for the project.
City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas criticized the policy of expanding roads to serve ex-urban areas while failing to adequately fund repairs to existing roads.
“They build new infrastructure while abandoning older urban communities,” she said.
Mayor Jim Ellison blasted Patterson for being out of touch with Royal Oak and other cities in the southeast portion of the county.
“It’s insane that they are going to spend that kind of money to serve people in the north of the county,” he said. “The only time we see Brooks Patterson is when comes down here to take credit for Arts, Beats & Eats.”
The project is likely happen despite opposition but those opposed to it should not stop fighting, Ellison said.
“Maybe we’ll get some concessions,” he said.