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Melvindale — Road crews are on track to finish rebuilding the Rouge River bridge over Interstate 75 before the end of 2018, the state Transportation Department said Thursday. 

The massive $220 million project will replace the concrete surface on the Rouge River bridge and replace or repair 13 other spans.

That's good news for Metro Detroit drivers. The southbound lanes have been closed for about eight miles, from Springwells in Detroit to Northline in Southgate since February, forcing drivers to find other routes to get to Downriver. About 24 football field size concrete sections have been removed for a new surface to be laid. 

"Despite the autonomous technology we have, there is still a lot of (manual) work being put into this from checking spacing for steel reinforcement to pouring concrete," said Bill Erben, project manager for MDOT.

About 156 workers from contractor Cahill are doing the work, Erben said.

The nearly 2-mile-long bridge carries 37 million vehicles per year and is a commercial link between the United States and Canada. The highest point of the bridge reaches 110 feet above the Rouge River has eight lanes and four shoulders in total.

The bridge originally was constructed in 1967, and the bridge deck was at a condition where patching and repair are no longer a viable option.

"This is the biggest bridge in Michigan, concrete wise," Erben said. "You have the Mackinac Bridge, which is longer, but it has less square yards of concrete. I've never worked on a bridge this big so the sheer size of it was challenging," Erben said. 

Concrete has been laid for a majority of the southbound side of the bridge, said MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross. 

In mid-November, the northbound driving lanes will be switched over to the new concrete so workers can start on northbound. 

Erben said they also are rebuilding the Goddard Road bridge in Allen Park. MDOT is on track to wrap up by the end of 2018. 

"Doing one direction in one year was a do-able schedule, doing both directions in one year was impossible," Erben said. 

The project has caused a few hiccups, Erben said. 

On Sept. 17, an SUV driver drove through construction barrels onto the closed southbound section of I-75 at Springwells in a potentially life-threatening incident and caused $50,000 worth of damage. 

"There were some surprises, things you can't really see until you start taking it apart. There were repairs we had to do and we did them. We will have a good, strong bridge," Erben said.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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