This week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast features a discussion about legislation, House Bill 4353, to allow for a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) component on newly built freeway lanes. This will be a first for Michigan.
Mark Dubay is a senior project manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) working on modernization of I-75 in Oakland County, which features several benefits to commuters and others driving on the busy corridor.
In addition to the HOV lane, other benefits include the addition of a tunnel to drain and store water and prevent freeway flooding during heavy rain events. The project also includes another diverging diamond interchange (DDI).
Later, Patrick McCarthy, director of MDOT’s Bureau of Finance, joins the podcast to talk about the transportation provisions in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget adopted by the Legislature this week.
Hello, welcome to the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I'm Jeff Cranson. Today is Thursday, June 29, 2023, and we've got quite a few things going on in transportation this week. Tomorrow, Friday, June 30, the hands-free law in Michigan will go into effect, meaning that if you want to talk on the phone, you've got to do it through Bluetooth or another device, but you cannot have the phone in your hands or really any digital device, and MDOT will be installing signs at border crossings and state-line crossings 37 in total to notify people of that and make sure that no one feels like they're caught off guard should they be stopped by law enforcement and told they were using their phone illegally. We've also got some news on the budget front, with the House and Senate coming to agreement and there'll be some new money for a lot of local projects around the state local roads, local bridges and some innovative things going on, some of it through some discretionary grants. And later I'm going to talk to Patrick McCarthy, director of MDOT's Bureau of Finance, about some specifics in the budget and what it means to transportation. But first I want to talk about some other legislation that passed this week very interesting kind of plunges Michigan ahead from an environmentally sound approach to transportation, equaling what several other states have been doing for years with what are called high-occupancy vehicle lanes, meaning that at certain times of the day, lanes freeway are restricted for people who are carpooling carrying more than just the driver. This is specifically going to help on a new segment of I-75 in Oakland County and Mark Dubay, who is a lead project manager on that specific project in Oakland County, will be here to talk about that. So, again, as mentioned earlier, my first guest today is Mark Dubay, who's a senior project manager at MDOT and has played a significant role in the work on the modernization of I-75 project in Oakland County, one of MDOT's biggest projects over the past few years, and it features what is a long- time coming innovation for MDOT, which is high-occupancy vehicle lane, otherwise known as HOV lanes. Mark, thanks for being here and talk first just generally about the modernization project and why it's such a big deal for people in Oakland County and even people from further north and south who use it as a commuter rail.Mark Dubay:
Jeff, thanks for having me on today. I always enjoy sitting down to talk about the I-75 modernization project. It's a project I've been involved in now for several years and it is a big, important project, not just to Oakland County but the people within Michigan. So for anyone that's not familiar with the I-75 modernization project, it's 18 miles of I-75 from South Boulevard, which is up near M-59, south to M-102 or Eight Mile. The project reconstructs and widens the existing freeway, service drives, also includes replacement of all bridges within the corridor and adds a large storage and drainage tunnel. The I-75 modernization project has been in the planning and development for over 20 years now and we are finally in the last phase to complete construction within the corridor. The construction has consisted of three phases or segments, which began in 2016, which make up the overall I-75 modernization. Segment one was South Boulevard south to Coolidge Highway that was opened to traffic in 2017. Segment two is Coolidge Highway south to north of 13 mile that was open to traffic in 2020. The last piece of construction which we will finish this year and open to traffic in the fall is north of 13 mile road south down to M-102 or 8 Mile, this corridor that has been under construction the last several years is a critical commercial, commuter, tourist and local area business route that moves a lot of people and goods across the state daily. The corridor has not seen any significant improvements since originally constructed. Jeff mentioned some benefits. Some of those include adding a new lane within the corridor, which will accommodate existing and future traffic needs, increased mobility, motor safety, travel efficiency and reliability for personal and freight movement within the corridor. Now, as part of the reconstruction of I-75, obviously we'll be improving the bridge and pavement condition and improving the drainage system to help avoid future flooding on the freeway.Jeff Cranson:
So I mostly wanted to talk about the HOV lanes because that's fresh, it's in the news, legislation actually was adopted this week in the house. But since you mentioned the tunnel, that is something we should talk a little bit about because it's pretty cool and it's a good solution to a problem. We've had increased weather events, more frequency of volatile events because of climate change. Southeast Michigan has really been hit hard, in part because Metro Detroit sits very low and because of the soils around Metro Detroit. All the pumps and generators in the world aren't going to do a lot if there's no place for the water to go, if the tributaries are swollen and overflowing. So this tunnel is a really cool idea to be able to keep the road moving. Can you talk a little more about that?Mark Dubay:
Sure, yeah. The tunnel is a very large and unique part of the overall I-75 modernization project being constructed under the last phase of construction, the segment three project. The previous drainage system that existed before implementing the tunnel was almost 50 years old and it was in need of improvement. The segment three project is currently constructing a large storage and drainage tunnel. The tunnel, when finished, will be 14.5 foot inside finished diameter. It'll be about four miles long, run from just north of 8 mile to within the 12 mile road interchange. This tunnel will help provide storage and conveyance to help avoid future flooding in the depressed portion of the I-75 Freeway from eight mile essentially 8 mile to 12 mile road. Anyone that's familiar with the area, you know I think it was 2014 the last time we had the large rain events where you know we had. You know, cars flooded on the freeway and we had a lot of standing water. You know the tunnel, it is being designed and constructed and such where we can, you know, not just collect the storm water but store the drum storm water as well and remove it from the combined sewer system, the current storm sewer outlets to the combined sewer system from within the local community as part of this project, not only will we be increasing the size and storage capacity of our drainage system, we will be also be removing it from the existing combined sewer system, which will also allow us additional opportunity to store and meter out storm water reduced rate, but it will also provide additional capacity for the local residential storage, drainage and storage system as well.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, I think that a lot of people, a lot of the definitions, characterizations of this have been focused on the drainage, but the storage component is really important and could really make a difference. So that's really cool. So let's go back to the HOV lanes now and what that's going to mean, you know it's pretty cool for you to be senior project manager on something that does offer so many innovations. What does it mean to you to be part of the state's first HOV plan?Mark Dubay:
Yeah, Jeff, it means a lot to me. It's, you know, this is a big, large, unique, complex project and there's several firsts on this project. You know we have the drainage and storage tunnel. You know how we're delivering the project to accelerate construction, you know, and get the job done quicker. And then you know implementation of an HOV lane. It means a lot for me to be part of the team delivering this project. You know, there's a great team, not just on the owner side but the contractor side, and there's been a lot of work to deliver things as part of this project that are first to Michigan, as we talked earlier, the drain, the storage and drainage tunnel, which will have significance improvements to the overall drainage system, not just for MDOT but the surrounding community. You know, how we delivered the project. The original I- 75 modernization project was going to be delivered in eight segments, with construction completing in 2034. I'm not explored various packaging and delivery options and decided to deliver the reconstruction of the corridor using Alternative delivery models. You know, through these alternative delivery models we're able to complete construction this year, accelerating by over 10 years faster than we originally planned, which significantly reduces impacts to motorists and stakeholders that you know use I-75 to live around I-75 every day. I think that's been in the news and would like to talk a little bit about today is the addition of the high occupancy vehicle lane, which will be the first lane of its kind in Michigan. The I-75 modernization project began over 20 years ago with a purpose and need to add capacity to an already congestion, built-up urban area. Freeway and adjacent developments are varied land use, from dense residential to industrial to large single-family homes. The freeway was laid out in stair step pattern to preserve land use from over 50 years ago. Since then, the surrounding corridor has been built up and developed and MDOT realized that you know we can no longer build our way out of congestion and that transportation solutions must be implemented to provide mobility and access while preserving the quality of life within the corridor. And we looked at several different transportation alternatives and out of those studies, peek, our high occupancy vehicle lane, is what was selected and chose to be implemented as part of the overall I-75 Modernization project and talk about what that means to you know.Jeff Cranson:
Implement it just during peak hours.Mark Dubay:
Yeah, so high occupancy vehicle lanes and you know what they are and how they work is probably new to a lot of people in Michigan. They've been around nationally for a long time and have been an innovative and integral part of our national transportation system. These lanes were first introduced in other states over 40 years ago and hopefully we're looking to provide that opportunity here in Michigan with these HOV lanes, specifically in the I-75 modernization corridor. HOV lanes are, you know, generally one or more lanes of a roadway that have restrictions on use to encourage ride sharing and reduce Vehicle miles traveled. Rules for HOV lanes vary depending on the route and are always posted within the corridor. Typically, an HOV lane is a preferential lane open the motor vehicles carrying two or more people, buses, emergency vehicles, law enforcement vehicles and sometimes even motorcycles. Access restrictions can apply 24 hours a day or only during peak congestion periods. Overall, the goal of an HOV lane is to provide an incentive to use ride sharing, remove congestion from normal or general purpose lanes and travel and improve overall traffic operations. Specifically on the I-75 modernization corridor, the HOV lanes will be 14 miles each direction, northbound and southbound. They will run from 12 mile road north to north of south Boulevard. These HOV lanes will be the inside lane or the left most lane, adjacent to the concrete median barrier wall in the middle, and they will require two or more occupants inside the vehicle and these will be peak hour, weekday operation. So what that means is Monday through Friday, 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm. They will be restricted to HOV use, which means two or more people or occupants per vehicle. All other times of the day the HOV restrictions will be suspended and the lanes operate as a general purpose lane and would be no different than any other lane within the I-75 corridor.Jeff Cranson:
And I know some people would say look, you know, i drive alone to work. That's just the way it is. I can't carpool because my schedule is unpredictable and I have to come and go and you know all those legitimate reasons why somebody might not do ride sharing. But I think what I would argue and tell me what you think about this, is that okay. But anything that you do that takes other people out of your way, you know, still helps you, still helps the congestion and anything that helps congestion helps us all right.Mark Dubay:
Yeah, that's a good question and I think that as we talk about HOV in Michigan, I think there's probably a lot of people that are asking that same question and wondering why we're doing this and maybe don't see the value in doing it. But, like you said, HOV lanes, you know, even though they are restricted during operational hours to two or more occupants, they don't just provide a benefit to the people that get to use that lane, they provide a benefit to all drivers, not just those who ride share, carpool and area residents and commuters. HOV lanes help ease congestion and heavily traveled areas by reducing the number of single occupancy cars on the interstate. So, even though single occupancy vehicles won't be able to use the HOV lanes during operational hours, they will receive a benefit from having less vehicles in the general purpose lanes. And that's you know, as part of the I-75 project, we're not reducing any general purpose lanes. There'll be the same number of general purpose lanes even when the HOV lanes are operational as they were before, and then, outside of restricted hours, there will be an additional general purpose lane that anyone can use.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, that's a good explanation at first. We should point out, too, there's a good reason why the US Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration incentivize HOV lanes and you know, with financial incentives for states to implement them. What are the other concepts? Not that we're looking at any of these in Michigan right now, but just so people understand the distinctions with the terms. You see HOV lanes or hot lanes. You talk about managed lanes. What are the differences between those things?Mark Dubay:
Yeah, that's a good question. You know HOV lanes, towing lanes, and I know we're not looking to implement any HOV lanes or towing lanes here in Michigan, but they're all really management tools to help in congested areas. You know so HOV lanes, you know our goal is to move people most efficiently and quickly as we can on the interstate system And that's. You know these HOV lanes, towing lanes, they're all Intended to be tools to help manage congestion. So an HOV lane is similar to an HOV lane, except for based on usage of high occupancy vehicles. So an HOV lane would also have, during operational hours of restriction on the number of occupants in a vehicle to use the lane. And then what happens in that scenario is if, based on the usage of the high occupancy vehicles, if there's additional capacity in that lane, then you could charge a fee or a toll for additional single occupancy vehicles to use that lane but not impact the operations of the facility. So if there's room for additional general purpose vehicles that are willing to pay to use that facility to try and help maximize the throughput of traffic in the corridor, then that's another way you can do it.Jeff Cranson:
That's why one of the terms that you hear for those lanes is Lexus Lane.Mark Dubay:
That's correct, you know, and in both those scenarios the HOV occupants still get to use the facility for free, And that's one thing we'd like to talk about here is we're not looking to charge anyone to use this lane. This will be an occupancy based.Jeff Cranson:
So things are looking pretty good for the overall project. You're planning to celebrate the opening of this segment probably early September. That's exciting and something to look forward to. Is there anything else you wanna say about either the HOV component or just the modernization project overall?Mark Dubay:
Yeah, like you said, Jeff, you know this is the last year and we are moving towards substantial completion and hope to get to finishing construction in the corridor this fall. So that's an exciting and big accomplishment on the job. You know as part of that there will be a large effort. You know, if we move, when we move forward with opening HOV lanes, to make sure that everyone understands how to use HOV lanes, you know who's eligible, when they can use them, a very in-depth and robust communication plan to make sure and I think that coincides you know with the enforcement of the lane and just to make sure everyone understands you know how to use the lane, when they can use the lane.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, we'll definitely be talking a lot more about it and doing all we can to help educate the public through various platforms and feeds. So, Mark, thank you for taking time to talk about this and, you know, congratulations on getting things this far.Mark Dubay:
Jeff thanks for having me. We look forward to finishing construction in the corridor and opening the traffic this fall.Jeff Cranson:
Please stay tuned. We'll be back with more Talking Michigan Transportation right after this.MDOT Message:
The Michigan Department of Transportation reminds you to slow down, follow all signs and pay attention when driving through work zones, because all employees deserve a safe place to work. Work zone safety. We're all in this together.Jeff Cranson:
We're back and, as I suggested earlier, Patrick McCarthy, who's the director of MDOT's Bureau of Finance, is here to talk about the newly adopted fiscal year 24 budget and what it means to transportation. Patrick, thank you for being here. It seems like this year more than others maybe recently there's not a lot in there that's new for MDOT specifically, but there's a lot for transportation overall.Patrick McCarthy:
Yes, I would agree with that. Thanks for having me back, Jeff, I appreciate it. Yes, the fiscal year 24 budget is mainly a continuation budget for the department. There was some new IIJAs, so the federal dollars. There was an IIJA increases from the federal programs that were recognized in our budget. But the majority of what we are seeing in the fiscal year 24 budget, at least for the state system, is just a continuation of previous years. There were quite a few additional funding opportunities that were provided for the local governments. MDOT has a role in helping to administer those funds, making sure that they get to the locals and we help them where possible to coordinate any federal programs or participation.Jeff Cranson:
So it's a good time to remind people that Michigan has more than 600 road agencies and that, while the heaviest traffic volumes, and certainly the commercial traffic, travel on the state routes what we call the state trunk lines, there are cities, villages and counties that have roads to maintain too, and there's a lot in there for them. So could you talk about some of the highlights?Patrick McCarthy:
Sure. So some of the big highlights for the local system there's an $80 million funding for local bridge bundling, which continues some programs that the department has started over the last few years to really advance and improve some of the local bridges that they just wouldn't have the resources on their own to administer or to fund. And then there's also quite a laundry list of critical infrastructure projects throughout the state And we'll have information provided on those projects around the state. And I believe that the legislature is also working on a website for all of these infrastructure grants so that they'll be transparent and available to the public to see where the money's going, who the sponsor of that specific grant was. And then there's also a few things for some of our modal partners. Passenger transportation and rail are seeing a $50 million award to help build the new center in Metro Detroit.Jeff Cranson:
There's a $45 million increase for one time for local bus operating to help with the transit agencies operating needs, which comes along at a good time, because the transit agencies took a bit of a hit during the pandemic. So that's probably part of the thinking there.Patrick McCarthy:
Yes, and their ridership is still recovering. So in that meantime they still have fixed costs that they still need to pay for, so that one time local bus operating assistance will hopefully get them through until they can get their ridership back up to pre-pandemic levels.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, and I think I'm glad you mentioned the bridge bundling again. We've talked about it a lot the last few years, but it's a great way for MDOT to leverage its contracting and engineering expertise and help out the local agencies that don't have the same resources, and it's been very successful and $80 million can go a long way. That list is still being formed, but we know that there's a couple bridges, including one in Bay County that's closed, that will be repaired and reopened, and then another one in Calhoun County, near Tekonsha, which i t's in terrible shape and it's going to be fixed. And those are a couple of the specifics that we'll be we'll be highlighting soon and then they'll be working in the rest of the list. As you, as you look at this budget and we look ahead, what do you think about the further IIJA funds and those, those discretionary grants? I mean, Michigan has done fairly well, right, and some of this is a reflection of those kinds of needs. Do you see more of that money flowing our way, or is that pretty much done?Patrick McCarthy:
No, I believe that we will have more IIJA funding coming into the state. We are, you know we are pursuing every opportunity that's available to, not only to the department but to our local government partners as well, and the local bridge bundling is a good example of that. Some of that funding may actually be available to leverage additional IIJA funding. So you know we could, we could take a, let's say, a $10 million investment of state funds and leverage that as matching dollars on an IIJA grant. That could bring in 80 or $90 million. So you know the state is positioned well to continue to pursue these IIJA grants. We're working closely with our local partners. We're working closely with the Michigan Infrastructure Office for the coordination of all of these opportunities and we should see success in some of our applications throughout the next few years of the IIJA authorization.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, so we've got that to focus on going forward. Anything else you want to say about this year's budget, the fiscal year 24 budget for transportation?Patrick McCarthy:
Sure. One last thing I guess I would mention is that you'll see an increase of positions that were approved for the department. We got an additional 168 full-time positions, and those positions are critical to the delivery of our program, helping us to administer the larger IIJA programs, helping us to turn our attention to some of the new initiatives of transportation and moving away from just our traditional construction program to the operations of our systems. So those additional staff will allow us to continue to support not only the trunk line system that we have, but also to help our local partners as well to deliver their transportation needs.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, and if you're not heavily steeped in this, you know you're not aware that all those hard hats that you see along the road are not MDOT employees or even local agency employees. They're usually private contractors. but you know they're using government money and the big agency still has a responsibility to oversee it, and that's largely what you're talking about, right, correct.Patrick McCarthy:
We still have a requirement, specifically from the federal government to make sure that we're administering the dollars that are entrusted to us from Washington. You're right, a lot of the work that gets done in the construction industry and design work is done by consultants and contractors, but there's still a partnership with MDOT to deliver that successful project.Jeff Cranson:
With the addition of more money and more work and more oversight. You've got to at least try to keep up, and that's what this is all about. Yes, exactly, yeah, okay, well, thanks, Patrick, I appreciate the breakdown. We'll be talking. More is this thing takes shape and we're in good shape, time wise, I guess, and the budget was passed on June 28th and the fiscal year begins October 1st, so we're not cutting it close as we have in other years.Patrick McCarthy:
From a budget perspective, that's one of the positives that we really see is it gives us three months to really get prepared and be ready on October 1st to start to implement the budget, so we're very thankful for that.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, well said, well, thanks again. Thanks, Jeff. I'd like to thank you once more for tuning into Talking Michigan Transportation. You can find show notes and more on Apple podcasts or Buzzsprout. I also want to acknowledge the talented people who helped make this a reality each week, starting with Randy Debler, who skillfully edits the audio, Jesse Ball, who proofs the content, Courtney Bates, who posts the podcast of various platforms, and Jacke Salinas, who transcribes the audio to make it accessible to all.