MDOT Plans New Automated Lane From Ann Arbor to Detroit

Michigan’s Legislature passed a bill allowing the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Cavnue to convert an I-94 lane into a dedicated area for connected and automated vehicles, stretching roughly 25-miles between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

The project, announced in 2020, will amend the Michigan Vehicle Code to authorize a lane exclusive to self-driving vehicles. 

Leading the development of this project will be the infrastructure technology company, Cavnue, which develops and implements technology to power technologically connected roads.

Michigan State Senator Jeff Irwin of the 15th district said, “I’m not sure that this will benefit others,” said Irwin. “I voted against the bill because I did not think it was clear or controlled. In terms of clarity, it was not clear to me how this is going to be a benefit to people broadly. Perhaps Cavnue will come away with some knowledge or technology that benefits others.”

In addition to the automated lane, the bill allows MDOT access to implement their design on the designation of ramps. The 2020 bill also highlights that users would pay a required fee for the use of the lane. 

According to an MDOT official, questions such as the benefits of the project and the cost of the project are still under development by MDOT and Cavnue. 

The initiative must go through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, therefore, this is still a proposed project. All projects receiving federal funding or requiring federal approvals must be reviewed for social, environmental, and economic impacts. According to an MDOT official, this could take up to 12 months to complete

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impact of a project’s proposed actions before they decide whether to proceed.

Projects have to follow the NEPA for the approval of permit applications, federal land management decisions, and the construction of highways and other publicly-owned infrastructure.

“These highway resources are multibillion-dollar resources,” Irwin said. “They received the use of a piece of public infrastructure that is incredibly valuable. These roadways are very expensive, and that was one of the reasons why I voted no. If you’re taking a valuable and expensive public resource and cordoning it off for private and not public use, then I would like more information on why this benefits the public.” 

According to the MDOT official, who requested not to named, a pilot project may be approved this year on a three-mile segment of westbound I-94 from Belleville to Rawsonville roads. This would allow Cavnue to test their technology associated with the overall concept.

The MDOT official said, the public would see a wider shoulder, different lane markings, and the tech equipment installed in the median that would allow for testing during non-peak travel times. However, there is no timeline yet on when this could be implemented.

According to the Canvue website, building their connected road begins with mock-up digital models, which give their system vital information. This process ensures a safer and more efficient road-operating environment.

Irwin states that before receiving approval, Cavnue approached him years before reaching the Michigan Legislature, asking to appropriate a lane of Michigan road for their use. Irwin explained the project initially would test whether they could help provide connected vehicle improvements along the roadway for better operation.

“I think there is great promise with robot-driven cars,” Irwin said. “I think there is an opportunity to organize platooning and greater safety in the end. So you can have greater speed, efficiency, and safety. I think that’s possible. But it wasn’t clear in their pitch what they were trying to test.”

Cavnue and MDot planned to hold public input events at Washtenaw Community College on March 22. However, MDOT announced two days before the event, they delayed the event until a later date.

According to the MDOT official, they anticipate rescheduling the event for this spring, but no confirmed date yet.

“Given that the legislature passed it,” Irwin said. “I have to remain hopeful that I was wrong and that this company will come up with some innovation or process that is beneficial to the public interest.”

The project has already received support from some businesses, as Ford and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners have already provided $130 million in capital funding for the project.

“In Michigan, we are behind in building a functional transportation network,” Irwin said.”We have plenty of roads. We have so many roads that we don’t have the money to maintain them. It would be better for the quality of life, a sense of place, and economic development if we broaden our transportation investments and rebuild a real transit system here in southeast Michigan.”

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Antonio Cooper is a freelance journalist from Detroit, Michigan. His coverage of music festivals and interviews with local celebrities appeared in The E-Current Magazine, The Detroit Metro Times, XXL Magazine, RichMagDigital, The Ann Arbor Observer, and Pop Magazine.