Pontiac — Work on widening congested Interstate 75 through Oakland County will begin this summer, County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said Wednesday night.
Patterson said the plan for what he calls “Oakland County’s Main Street” has been under discussion for five years and will begin with a three-mile stretch in the Square Lake Road area and cost $127 million.
“Adding a lane north and southbound on I-75 from Eight Mile to M-59 will have a significant impact on commerce and driver convenience,” Patterson said in his annual State of the County address. The Michigan Department of Transportation said the long-term project, completed in phases, could stretch beyond 2020. The freeway carries an estimated 120,000 vehicles daily often turning it into a parking lot, he said.
Patterson said the freeway widening from three to four lanes also could prompt MDOT to study the possibility of making that stretch of I-75 a connected freeway, installing infrastructure that will communicate with vehicles.
“From the point of view of the Oakland County Connected Vehicle Task Force, we are excited about the possibilities if I-75 were to become a connected freeway through our county,” Patterson said. “We know the auto companies and suppliers would utilize it as a test bed to advance their connected vehicle programs.”
Already on sections of Interstates 96 and 696 MDOT has installed sensors and cameras that will talk to vehicles to warn drivers of road hazards and weather conditions. The system is part of technology-enabled “smart” roads being developed around the country, and could be the next step toward self-driving cars.
MDOT on Wednesday announced the work will include reconstructing more than three miles, replacing five bridges, reconfiguring the interchange at Square Lake Road and constructing an additional through-lane in each direction.
A start date for the I-75 expansion project’s first phase — the approximately 3.3-mile segment between South Boulevard and Coolidge — wasn’t available because officials are using the design-build method, Rob Morosi, a spokesman for MDOT, said Wednesday night. That allows contractors to build the job as project design continues.
Work on the first phase of the project was expected to last through fall 2017, Morosi said.
“At this time, due to funding, we are looking at about a 20-year build out, so we have it split up into different segments,” Morosi said, adding some portions could take two to three years to complete.
Troy Mayor Dane Slater said the project was “long overdue.”
“This will alleviate many of our commuting problems in Troy,” he said after the speech. “Anything that helps Oakland County helps Troy, as well.”
Dan Devine, Bloomfield Township treasurer, said the plan has benefits and will make the freeway safer. “It will definitely be a plus for our residents going to and from work,” he said.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat, applauded his counterpart’s ability to get the project approved.
“We have all kinds of roads that need work, resurfacing — not to mention areas where roadways need more lanes,” Hackel said. “The need is great and we aren’t getting the help or leadership we need from Lansing (lawmakers).”
County Commissioner Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, said Patterson missed the mark on his support for widening I-75.
“Brooks is completely disconnected from the realities of the 21st century,” said Woodward, chairman of the board’s Democratic caucus. “The fact is business and young, talented workers want vibrant, walkable, and livable communities and not more freeways to drive dollars right pass the population centers.
“These dollars would much better be spent investing in our cities and townships and rebuilding our infrastructure and developing reliable and safe public transportation instead of supporting more costly urban sprawl.”
The 77-year-old Patterson, who plans to seek a seventh-term later this year, delivered an address that also touched on the county’s solid fiscal footing, paid parental leave for county workers, and increased health and safety programs before more than 600 people at the Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac.
“To put it bluntly: The state of Oakland County is strong, amazingly strong,” Patterson said. “Why am I so pleased and confident? Well, let me count the ways.”
Over the next 40 minutes, Patterson ticked off how the county had not only survived the Great Recession between December 2007 and January 2009 but reached a goal of “full employment due to our economic diversification.” That means unemployment is at or below 5 percent, economists say.
Business investment in the first six months of 2015 was more than three-quarters of a billion dollars with foreign companies investing $352 million in the county.
“That’s more than some states enjoy,” Patterson proudly noted.
Patterson said the county’s multi-year budget is balanced through 2021. The county maintains a AAA bond rating, the highest available,
“Just this week, Moody’s Investors Services and Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed our AAA bond rating,” he said. “S&P indicated that Oakland County can outperform the United States government under fiscal stress. S&P said that the AAA bond rating is supported by Oakland County’s, and I quote, “strong economy; ... very strong management; and very strong budgetary flexibility, with a high available fund balance.”
Patterson said he hopes to make county jobs more attractive with proposed programs that offer six weeks of paid parental leave for mothers and fathers. He said the Board of Commissioners is working on the plan. A similar benefits plan was adopted by Ferndale officials last month.
Patterson outlined work involving combined efforts of public and private groups to focus on a countywide health program encouraging exercise and the consumption of fruit and vegetables to help battle obesity.
The county’s 72,000 veterans will also get extra attention later this year, Patterson said. County offices and a Veterans Resource Fair found housing for 68 homeless veterans in 2015 and in the past year the Veteran’s Services Division and partners identified and have housed an additional 92 veterans in suitable housing, he said.
The county has expanded its first response programs in emergencies — such as terrorism or workplace violence — to involve active shooter training for preparing workers on how to survive such incidents. Training has been provided to teachers and school administrators, hospital and medical facilities and shopping centers.
“Just last week, dozens of personnel from southeast Michigan colleges and universities — a total of 60 institutions — took part in our active shooter training program,” he said. “This year, we will expand that training to long-term care facilities where your loved ones may be housed. “
Patterson said while the Zika mosquito virus has not been detected in Oakland County, concerns about it elsewhere in the world have prompted use of part of the West Nile Virus budget for controlling and avoiding mosquitoes.
Patterson also lauded the formation of the Great Lakes Water Authority. He said the water authority helps insure transparency and that contracts will be bid out to the lowest qualified bidder.
“It means for the first time the Oakland County ratepayer has a real seat at the table when it comes to running the water system,” Patterson said. “I can tell you it also puts an end to crony contracts — the kind of friends-and-family deals that sent those under the Kwame Kilpatrick water department to prison. “
Detroit News Staff Writers Mark Hicks and Michael Martinez contributed.