August 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit area roads start reopening after flooding

But some freeway spots could remain closed for days

Skip loaders continue the clean up at the I-75 and I-696 interchange in Royal Oak on Tuesday. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

It may be days before all of Metro Detroit’s freeways are cleared out from the aftermath of Monday’s thunderstorms.

But commuters can expect to see smoother sailing for Wednesday’s morning drive time. Tuesday evening, Interstate 94 at 10 Mile was reopened and M-10 (the Lodge) at Linwood and M-8 from Jefferson to Howard also reopened to traffic.

Interstate 94 from Addison to Greenfield, and Greenfield to Michigan was in the clean-up stage Tuesday night with water having receded and vehicles cleared.

Interstate 696, however, is a different story, and it could take days before the Reuther is cleared of water, vehicles and debris. Between Groesbeck and Dequindre westbound and Woodward and Gratiot eastbound, I-696 is still flooded because of pump failures and embankment erosion.

It’s the same with Interstate 75, which was still closed Tuesday evening from 11 Mile to 8 Mile southbound and M-8 to 11 Mile northbound because of multiple pump house failures.

I-696 “was hit pretty hard. (It’s) not going to reopen until the governor feels it’s safe for people to travel on,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said. “I would hope (that) would be within a day (or) the end of (Tuesday), but they want to check everything out. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure everything is safe.”

MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said an investigation is ongoing to evaluate what went wrong on area roadways. Some contributing factors include waterways overflowing and pump houses having no power because of scrappers stealing the copper wires used to run the pumps, in the same way it is stripped from the freeway lighting system.

A final determination can’t be made until all of the mud, trash, abandoned vehicles and other debris gets cleared.

“I have yet to run across somebody that’s ever seen anything like this before,” Cross said. “The fact how we deal with it in so many multiple places, that’s the part that’s unprecedented. It happened in so many freeways at the same time. That divided up our manpower and resources.”

Fouts called for a state of emergency because the city was so hard hit. That included a sagging turnaround along I-696.

“This will go down as the Great Flood of 2014,” Fouts said. “We survived the winter of 2014 and we survived the great flood. I hope we never get another flood like this. This is unlike anything we’ve ever heard of.”

According to police, 76 percent of Stephenson Highway, which runs between I-75 in Troy and I-696 in Royal Oak/Madison Heights, has been washed away by the rain, causing catastrophic damage to the I-75/I-696 interchange.

In Royal Oak, engineer Matt Calahan worked to determine what caused the I-696 embankment to fail in the area. The rain made the ground like “liquified quick sand,” he said. When the hill eroded, it also knocked out a pump station.

Calahan, who likened the damage to what people would generally see with a California mudslide, said one block of Stephenson Highway will also have to be rebuilt.

MDOT has put in a temporary pump station, but it will take a few days to clear the area. Meanwhile, several cars are buried under water, he said.

“We have a big hole in the ground,” Calahan said. “There’s no soil supporting it. It’s just hanging there with nothing to support it. In this particular section, we still don’t know the exact reason why it occurred. This is probably one of the only sections of roadway I’ve been told so far there’s a problem with.”

Parts of nearly every major freeway in the Metro Detroit area were closed after the storm, including I-94 and the Lodge freeway. On one stretch of the Lodge, about 40 cars needed to be removed. Another section near Cobo Center was closed because of a raw sewage spill, but it is now reopened.

Debris on freeways may have been contributing to the flooding, but it is not likely a major factor, Cross said.

“Debris of any kind can block a drain,” Cross said. “Someone could make that assumption, but I can’t say that.”

Detroit resident Joe Rashid said Monday’s storm “was reminiscent of any bad storm I’ve been through in the past.”

Rashid, 32, was in Galveston, Texas, when Hurricane Ike came through. Monday night, he took side streets home, and Tuesday morning he helped his friend navigate city streets to get into the New Center area.

“It was kind of a similar feel. It was dirt and debris along the roadways,” said Rashid, who normally takes I-94 to I-96 to his job. He worked in his downtown office Tuesday. “It definitely felt like a bit of a random super-storm that you weren’t expecting. I just used my knowledge (of city streets) to figure out where to go. This morning I used Google maps to make sure everything was moving smoothly.”
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