Fouts to gov: Roadwork tiff now 'public safety' issue

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts is calling on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to declare a state of emergency in Warren because of the delays in the roadwork.

A Macomb County mayor is calling on the governor to help his city cope with traffic issues that he links to a dispute involving road workers and a contractor association.

He is calling on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to declare a state of emergency in Warren because of the delays in the roadwork.

“Clearly, we have a serious public safety problem in Warren due to delays in I-696 construction,” Mayor Jim Fouts said in a letter to Snyder on Tuesday. “It is critical to note that, if I-696 construction is delayed by winter, the problems in Warren will be magnified and public safety will be even more endangered.”

Work on I-696 had been slated to continue through November but has slowed since more than 150 road projects in southeast Michigan were shut down or partially halted in a labor dispute between a contractor association and unionized road builders.

The dispute started Sept. 4 between the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and the Operating Engineers Local 324, which has refused to bargain a new contract with the industry association after its five-year deal expired in June.

The shutdown has affected a 10-mile project on Interstate 696 between interstates 94 and 75 that was shut down in April for an overhaul by the Michigan Department of Transportation, Fouts said.

An estimated 150,000 vehicles travel the stretch of I-696 daily. 

Fouts cited a report from Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer about issues associated with motorists seeking alternate routes, including backups and accidents that have jumped 27 percent in the last four months compared to 2017, he said.

The mayor also cited a report from Warren Fire Commissioner Wilburt McAdams that said accidents on alternate routes could delay first responders and emergency personnel.

Reached for comment Tuesday night, Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said: "The state has been talking to both sides in the road-building dispute — the Operating Engineers 324 and (Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association) — in an attempt to help them build a framework for an agreement that will get everyone back to work. We are pushing hard to have this discussion and an agreement expedited because Gov. Snyder understands motorists’ frustration over these stalled projects."

Adler added: "Since Mayor Fouts apparently sent his letter to the media before the Governor’s Office had it, we have not yet had time to even review the request. Having said that, in checking with MDOT, I have been told the I-696 project was not scheduled for completion until late November. It’s important to note then that the existing closures on I-696 would have been in place right now even if the road building industry was not having this dispute with itself."