Department of Transportation reschedules self-driving corridor meeting

Department of Transportation reschedules self-driving corridor meeting

(The Center Square) – The Michigan Department Of Transportation has postponed its March 22 public meeting on the environmental study of a proposed connected and automated vehicle corridor project along I-94 in Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

The MDOT Metro Region Communications spokesman Rob Morosi said the public meeting would be rescheduled. He added the meeting was postponed because MDOT and tech company Cavnue “need further alignment” on the National Environmental Policy Act study before public engagement.

The rescheduling follows public criticism of spending taxpayer money on self-driving vehicle technology and electric vehicle subsidies instead of public transit or another spending that could reach all Michiganders instead of those driving electric vehicles.

Michigan taxpayers are slated to spend over $3 billion on electric vehicle subsidies despite only about 25,181 EVs currently registered statewide.

The cost of the self-driving corridor is currently budgeted at about $20 million for work planned in 2024, according to MDOT’s five-year transportation plan.

On March 15, Detroit City Councilmember Angela Calloway tweeted a meme of taxpayer dollars mostly focused on funding EVs instead of walking, cycling, public transport, rail, and parking.

“This may be the best representation of putting all of our eggs in the autonomous + electric vehicle basket,” Calloway said.

“One in five households in Detroit don't have a car – [autonomous vehicles] and EVs won't change that. We need more investment in public transportation, with an EMPHASIS on bus and rail.”

When completed, Michigan Avenue is expected to be a part of a 40-mile connected and autonomous vehicle corridor between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor. MDOT is working on the corridor design to test autonomous and connected vehicles.

While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer welcomed the spending “to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future,” other groups have urged the state to spend money in other ways that would benefit all taxpayers.

A 2022 report from The Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan recommended state transportation planners should “refocus efforts on proven solutions to today’s problems.”

“Michigan cannot be a leader in automotive by chasing transient technology trends,” the CRC report said. “The industry appreciates that Michigan officials are interested and engaged in developing new technologies, but there should be more reflection and less reflex when investing public resources. Such efforts distract from finding real solutions to real problems today.”

The corridor was announced in 2020 and aims to reduce vehicle fatalities. However, The American Automobile Association's annual automated vehicle survey found that 68% of drivers fear automated driving technology, a 13% increase from last year’s survey.

“We were not expecting such a dramatic decline in trust from previous years,” AAA director of automotive research Greg Brannon said in a statement. “Although with the number of high-profile crashes that have occurred from over-reliance on current vehicle technologies, this isn’t entirely surprising.”

A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the computers that power autonomous cars could become a significant source of carbon emissions if widely adopted.

The study said 1 billion autonomous vehicles, each driving for one hour daily with a computer consuming 840 watts, would consume enough energy to generate about the same emissions as data centers.

According to the International Energy Agency, data centers housing computer infrastructure currently account for about 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, or about the annual carbon emissions of Argentina.

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