The Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments reported last week that urban sprawl has claimed over 159,000 acres of land just outside of Detroit between 1990 and 2000. The report shows a 17-percent increase in development of rural land, and confirms what urban planners and anti-sprawl activists have been warning about for years: Redevelopment and infill development are necessary for the region’s vitality, and attention must be paid to both old and growing communities as infrastructure and land become depleted and worn out by unregulated expansion.

The immense amount of money being spent to develop these rural areas means less private investment within the city of Detroit and its inner-ring suburbs. If Michigan’s more affluent residents continue to move outside of Detroit, the metropolitan area is destined for further problems.

SEMCOG projects that within 50 years the cost of sprawl will be between $14 billion and $26 billion apiece for sewage and water systems. Furthermore another $41 billion dollar investment is projected for roadwork over the same period. The source of this funding has yet to be identified. One thing is for certain: the consequence of urban sprawl will put a heavy strain on the region. This potential total of $93 billion in expenses cannot be dismissed in light of Michigan’s current budget crisis. There is no way that these costs can be absorbed without more cutbacks in important programs statewide.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s government is doing little to attack sprawl. In fact, on the contrary, highway construction at six major points in metro Detroit have been approved. Though efforts to repair Detroit’s damaged roads are welcome, they must be coupled with other projects that ensure the long-term sustainability of Southeast Michigan. More importantly, the money allocated to projects like highway construction that enable sprawl must not be allowed to replace funding for sustainable projects.

The $93 billion outlay over the next 50 years for infrastructure improvements is not the sole consequence of unfettered sprawl. The environment, communities, culture and inner-ring suburbs and cities all suffer as development races outward. But taxpayers must also realize that the tremendous amount of funding that sprawl unnecessarily eats up will come directly from their pockets.

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