- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - While the Michigan Legislature debates how to put an additional $1.2 billion annually toward repairing roads, the state may be facing another transportation funding crunch as congestion grows on some of its major thoroughfares.

The U.S. Department of Transportation projects the country will face a growing gridlock crisis as the amount of commuter traffic increases.

Meanwhile, it is estimated an additional $1.2 billion is needed annually just to preserve Michigan’s deteriorating highways, but even that boost likely wouldn’t do much to help ease traffic congestion.

Like other states, Michigan appears positioned to have more people driving more miles for a variety of reasons, including the lure of city-center jobs and suburban life. Vehicle miles traveled increased in eight urban areas around the state from 2010 to 2013 despite more miles of road being added in those places during that same time.

Despite those statistics, Detroit is the only metro area in the state for now with an average commute time higher than the national average of 25.8 minutes. The average Detroit commuter spends 26.4 minutes on the road going through the nearly 140-square-mile city. Other metro areas including Lansing, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor logged commute times lower than the national average, according to a data analysis by The Associated Press.

But Michigan’s resurgence from the economic recession could spark growing numbers of commuters.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has been working on projects around the state to ease traffic congestion and has plans for several major projects in coming years, including on the busy US-23 corridor between Brighton and Ann Arbor and along I-94 in Detroit.

MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said the new funding being discussed for the state’s roads would not be aimed at adding capacity, though he noted that the money could address traffic congestion through improving poor pavement conditions that can slow down drivers.

Cranson said the state is looking at other options for meeting people’s transportation needs, too.

He cited the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, bus rapid transit system in Grand Rapids, and M-1 Rail project in Detroit as a few examples of the state’s commitment to public transit efforts.

“But people will still drive automobiles for a very long time, and a multi-modal Department of Transportation needs to be cognizant of that in planning even as the state and country struggle through a decades-long transportation funding crisis,” Cranson said.

Groups such as the Michigan Environmental Council say building more roads or adding more lanes has to be looked at as just one of many possible approaches to curbing gridlock. Liz Treutel, a policy associate with the Michigan Environmental Council, said consideration also needs to be given to having more modes of transportation and looking at the accessibility of people’s everyday needs through planning strategies.

“Creating communities with all the residential in one area and all the job opportunities in one area means oftentimes people are forced to drive 20, 30, 40 minutes a day to get to work,” Treutel said. “A lot of people think that’s their only option, to sit in traffic all day to get to work. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.”

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