Despite the four seasons climate, Michiganders often comment on living in a binary of two seasonal traditions, winter and road construction.
After too many years of enduring the deterioration of the state’s infrastructure, Michiganders are witnessing a transformation of roads during their daily commutes. Governor Whitmer’s campaign promise to “fix the damn road” is led under the stewardship of Director Ajegba.
Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Director, Paul C. Ajegba, spoke with the Michigan Chronicle on the progress of the department’s plan to transform the state’s road mobility routes to top-tier conditions.
“It’s all federal funding,” said Ajegba. “There is no state of Michigan money and also the beauty is that if we devised a program and presented it to the feds and said we would like to try it. It was agreed to be funded over time. I have been tasked to write a yearly report and account for the funding so that we an continue gaining the confidence that this program that is showing results.”
Paul C. Ajegba served 28 years with MDOT before being appointed by the governor as director in 2019. Since his appointment, residents can witness several large-scale construction projects underway to modernize roads, bridges, and freeway systems in the state repeatedly named with the worst road conditions in the country.
Under Governor Whitner’s Rebuilding Michigan Program, MDOT’s directive to rebuild the state’s highways and bridges were unanimously approved by the State Transportation Commission in January 2020. The department was greenlit to sell a total of $3.5 billion in bonds to finance new and modified road and bridge construction projects across the state between 2020 and 2024.
“I have to give my boss, Governor Whitmer, a line of credit,” said Ajegba. “She was very passionate about fixing our infrastructure. Over the years, disinvestment is obvious. When she came in and put money behind $3.5 billion, you can drive anywhere in Michigan and can see all the signs of the work being done.”
Before being appointed director, Ajegba worked as a Metro Region engineer for three months following a seven-year commitment in the University Region. While there, Ajegba and his team oversaw the planning, designing, and building of several major projects, including America’s Transformation Award-winning US-23 Flex Route.
A licensed professional engineer in Michigan, Ajegba completed his undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the Texas HBCU, Prairie View A&M University, and a master’s in construction engineering from the University of Michigan.
The Not-So Bumpy Road Toward Progress
The Five-Year Transportation Program (5YTP) is invested in improving the state’s infrastructure conditions to advance the quality of movement and boost the state’s economy along heavily trafficked areas. The list of projects includes statewide rural projects (road and transit) and transportation improvement programs (TIPs) from the 14 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).
MDOT is responsible for Michigan’s nearly 10,000-mile state highway system, comprised of all M, I, and U.S. routes. It maintains Michigan’s 120,000-mile highway, road, and street network.
The infrastructure revamp includes a multilayered approach to fix dangerous potholes and reconstruct the state’s truck lines on M, I, and U.S. routes.
The Rebuilding Michigan initiative is slated to complete 45 statewide projects divided between 27 roads and 13 bridges. The ambitious overhaul has also boosted the state’s job economy, with jobs supported through all plan sectors. According to MDOT’s program portal, 4,772 workers have clocked in 1,817,994 construction hours.
The department aims to achieve a trunkline pavement performance goal of a 90 percent rating in “good or fair” road conditions toward longer road life. The program plans to identify and address statewide issues in critical corridors and busy interstates, including I-69, I-75, I-94, and others.
“Before, we were spending $1.5 billion and now that’s almost three times what we’re spending,” said Ajegba, “And you can see it all over the state. Not just Southeast Michigan, you can go anywhere and that’s good. In that regard, I think we met the challenge to be innovative with momentum.”
The latest of this construction ingenuity in Detroit is the building of the Second Avenue Bridge on Wayne State University’s Palmer parking lot. Part of the I-94 modernization project, the project is Michigan’s first network tied-arch bridge consisting of numerous cables that are crossed from the top of the arch to the part of the structure supporting traffic. The bridge is the first skewed and unbraced network arch bridge to be constructed in the U.S.
“This is all part of the vision to do things differently,” said Ajegba. “If we were to build a bridge like that over live traffic, that would be so disruptive. So, we built it on the side and slide it in and that’s still one of those technologies that not too many states are doing because it you know it’s risky to do but I think we’ve proven that it could be done.”
Once completed, the new bridge will connect the neighborhoods from the north and south sides of the bridge for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicles. The Second Avenue bridge is expected to reopen for us this fall.
Director Ajegba shared his department’s continued dedication toward innovation in the green economy to the future of sustainability.
“We have so many projects all over the state, not just construction but even in electric vehicle technology,” said Ajegba. “We are working with a company out of Israel’s ElectReon to put inductive charging on the roadways. As you drive on the roadways, you can charge your electric vehicle. This is challenging us to try new things. We should remain open-minded because in engineering, most times when you try something and it succeeds, you can then model it elsewhere.”
To report a pothole on state roads, residents are encouraged to fill out a Report a Pothole form at michigan.gov/mdot/travel/commuters/potholes or call 888-296-4546. To receive updates on traffic and closures, visit MDOT’s Email Updates page and submit your contact information.