July 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Residents get details of M-1 Rail project, learn I-75, I-94 to briefly close in August

Bridge work will be done during weekends in Aug.

Tom Gilman, project manager for Stacy and Witbeck, says contractors have no choice but to completely close a section of Woodward for the M-1 Rail project construction. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Residents, entrepreneurs and others learned more details Wednesday about the M-1 Rail streetcar line and how its construction will impact the city.

M1 Rail officials offered renderings of what the cars could look like, explained work zones and fielded questions from about 50 people who turned out for the meeting at the M@dison on Broadway downtown.

Motorists who use Woodward, as well as Interstates 75 and 94, will be affected by the demolition/replacement of two pairs of bridges that carry M-1 over the freeways.

Aurelia Jaworski, co-owner of the Bleu nightclub nearby, said she wanted to learn more about how her business would be affected. “I just need to know what to plan for,” she said.

Kim Hunter, a social justice coordinator with Engage Michigan, wanted to know how public transportation might improve. He said it didn’t seem that bus riders would significantly benefit.

“Detroit needs development, and this is a development project, but there are other ways to help develop the city that I think would have been better,” he said.

The freeways beneath the spans will be completely closed during the actual demolition, which will occur on weekends. On Aug. 4, contractors will shift traffic on the southbound Woodward bridge over I-94 and then will demolish the bridge over the weekend of Aug. 9. The southbound bridge over I-75 will be demolished the weekend of Aug. 23.

Woodward will remain open during the bridge demolitions, according to Tom Gilman, project manager for Stacy and Witbeck, civil contractors who have installed streetcar systems in Portland; Seattle; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Dallas.

“The bridges will be replaced in stages, and Woodward will remain open at all times,” Gilman said in an interview earlier Wednesday with The News. “We will drop one half a bridge at a time with traffic shifted to the other half of the bridge. Once the new side is completed, we will then shift traffic back onto the new side and demolish the old side.”

The light-rail project construction begins July 28. Starting July 27, Woodward will be closed for up to four months between Campus Martius and Adams during first phase construction of the long anticipated $137 million M-1 Rail system.

The closure is needed so crews can lay down trolly tracks of the 3.3-mile light rail system, which is expected to be up and running by fall 2016 between downtown and the New Center area. Once completed, the M-1 line is expected run from downtown to New Center, serving 20 stations at 12 locations, according to project plans. Some 6,000 daily riders were anticipated in the first year of operations, officials said.

Contractors have no choice but to completely close this section of Woodward, Gilman said.

“It’s necessary to completely close this section of Woodward because in this stretch it’s only four lanes wide,” Gilman said. “It is safer this way, plus we can store our construction equipment right on site. Woodward north of Adams is nine lanes so we won’t have to close it. Instead, we’ll just shift traffic from one side of Woodward to the other.”

According to Gilman, crews will remove two 8-foot-wide strips of Woodward and replace them with new concrete containing the streetcar rails.

“It’s been decades since new rails have been installed in the road, but there are still old tracks under the pavement along certain sections of Woodward,” Gilman said.

Project leaders and proponents say the rail line could boost investment, economic development and urban renewal. But the construction work could make it temporarily difficult for visitors, residents and workers to reach major downtown locations.

M-1 planners say Woodward south of Adams to Larned will be closed to cars for most of 2014. During the closure, northbound Woodward traffic will be detoured on Larned to John R to Gratiot to Broadway to Witherell to East Adams and back to Woodward. Southbound traffic will be detoured on West Adams to Cass to Grand River to Washington and then back to Larned.

Meanwhile, on Woodward between Adams and Chandler, one lane of traffic in each direction will stay open and the turn lane will be maintained at all times. One lane is set to remain open around Campus Martius at all times for emergencies, officials said last week.

Cross streets will remain open during construction, as will sidewalks that allow pedestrian access to dozens of businesses within the work zone.

Businesses such as Slices Pizza, which relies heavily on walk-in traffic and offers as well as deliveries, already are bracing for impact from the project.

“It’s going to affect our business tremendously, but we’re trying to look at it in the long run,” manager Demian Brewer said Wednesday. “We didn’t attend any meetings but we have been aware of the M-1 project through letters and notices. So far, there hasn’t been any inconvenience, but then again, they haven’t started any work.

“We’ll just have to tough it out until the project is completed.”

Project officials said they are working to minimize hassles while remaining on schedule. “At this point, we’re trying to make sure that we get in and get out as quick as possible,” Sommer Woods, director of external affairs, said during the meeting Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the department is reviewing Detroit’s request for an additional $12.2 million for the project.

Matt Cullen, the project’s president and CEO, has said if the project fails to get the additional federal funds, M-1 will take other steps, including potentially revising the project to reduce costs.