The attention of a panel of Michigan senators honed in on the challenges of driving along Ford Road Tuesday. Sen. Pat Colbeck, R-Canton, persuaded members of the transportation committee to host a hearing at Summit on the Park. The hearing drew close to 100 people, many of whom had plenty to say about the 7-lane throughway.
Township officials have applied to a federal program, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER III) for a grant of $22 million. The money would be used to reconfigure the I-275, Ford and Haggerty roads to reduce accidents and ease congestion. But they need the support of the state to advance the application for federal funding.
Canton Public Safety Director Patrick Nemecek told the panel that since 2008 traffic patrols specifically aimed at the key trouble areas had issued more than 700 tickets, for everything from tailgating to road rage. He said the effort was costly and in some cases, added to problems.
"The last thing you want to see as you're pulling off that ramp is the (police) lights on the side of the road," he said.
Sen. Goeff Hansen about the number of fatalities, Nemecek said the only good thing about traffic congestion in the area is drivers can't go all that fast, which kept fatalities relatively low.
Canton Fire Chief Tim Dunn told the senators that getting to accident scenes on Ford was challenging especially during rush hour because the two closest fire stations must use Ford or Haggerty to get to scenes.
At the end of the hearing the senators agreed to support the plan, which must be endorsed by the the entire state legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder as part of the application process.
The evening's real message, perhaps, came as the crowd thinned. Township
Supervisor Phil LaJoy, who complained during his testimony before the panel about difficulties in communicating with state transportation officials, approached M-DoT engineer Tony Kratofil.
Shaking his finger at Kratofil, LaJoy told him he was upset about spending two years getting a meeting set up with an M-DoT planner to talk about improving the Ford corridor, as well as a $450,000 study on the plan that "was sitting on a shelf," LaJoy said. "Why do the study if you aren't going to do the work?"
Kratofil began to respond but LaJoy cut him off.
"I don't care," snapped LaJoy before walking away. "Fix this."
Faas and Kratofil said the transportation planning meeting, set for later this week, will begin the next steps needed to get to a construction schedule — but the work won't happen without TIGER funding.
Tuesday's meeting lasted more than three hours and testimony throughout the evening ranged from practical to passionate.
A host of politicians and some business representatives testified about the economic challenge posed by safety issues and road congestion.
Municipal and political rivalries set aside, a parade of politicians took turns boosting their respective communities while linking economic success to safe and efficient travel along I-275 and Ford.
Livonia mayor Jack Kirksey referred to his city as "a suburb of Canton" but went on to say his residents who work in Canton complain about traveling Ford and I-275.
Northville Township Supervisor Chip Snider wondered during his testimony why his community, which has a population one-third the size of Canton's, has three exits from I-275, while Canton has just two.
Perhaps the most affecting testimony came from residents. Barbara Weide, a retired Detroit Police officer, said in the 12 years since she moved to Canton, she has never seen such "horrific" traffic.
Mary Sidick, a 35-year resident, urged the senators to support the TIGER grant application, reminding them, "The longer you wait to get things done, the more they cost."