Businesses get less traffic with I-275 closures

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

As Metro Detroiters enjoy the summer weather, some businesses off Interstate 275 are looking forward to the fall.

Andre Thomas and his grandma, Pat Thomas, order from Rachel Whitney at On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, off Interstate 275 in Novi.

Several near the 61/2-mile stretch on I-275 between Five Mile and the I-96/I-696/M-5 interchange say sales dropped when all southbound lanes closed May 2, causing them to slash employee hours. Southbound lanes reopened July 1 – but northbound lanes closed Tuesday and aren’t expected to open until mid-September, leaving some businesses in Livonia, Northville Township, Farmington Hills and Novi waiting to rebound.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is replacing 88 lane miles of concrete pavement as part of its $75 million Revive275 initiative. It also includes shoulder work on I-275, concrete repairs on I-696, fixes to 16 bridges, drainage improvement and work on intelligent transportation systems.

“It’ll be a new expressway,” said Diane Cross, spokeswoman for MDOT. “We’re hoping it will last a couple of decades.”

When both directions are open, an estimated 180,000 vehicles drive on the interstate between Five Mile and the interchange, Cross said. When one direction is closed, traffic is cut by at least half.

Although the Novi Chamber of Commerce, Northville Township manager Jeff Snider and MDOT said they had not heard complaints from businesses about the I-275 closure, several told The News they have felt the pain.

Paul Grauzer, kitchen manager of On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina in Novi, said sales are down 25 percent. “I wish they would’ve done two lanes at a time,” Grauzer said. “I think it would have helped.”

On the Border managing partner Reed Styers said the business is down 35 percent at dinner. He said catering and carry-out during lunch have helped with the loss of sit-down patrons.

Grauzer said On the Border has had to cut staff hours. Instead of the usual eight servers and four cooks it would have for a Tuesday evening, there are six servers and three cooks scheduled.

Rachel Whitney, a waitress at the restaurant, said she is working only three days a week and that several other employees have had to get second jobs. “I need to make sure I get extra good tips, since I’m so broke right now,” she said.

Chili’s Grill & Bar, also off the Eight Mile exit in Novi, has felt the pinch as well. Manager Chris Andrews said shifts have been shortened and servers are pocketing fewer tips.

The troubles stretch down I-275, too. Ross Robertson, a chef at Buca di Beppo off the Six Mile exit in Livonia, said fewer customers have come to the restaurant since May, forcing changes in employees’ schedules. “Lunch has been pretty much nonexistent,” he said.

Addressing concerns

Cross said MDOT held three public meetings to address concerns about the interstate closure, as well as several meetings with the Livonia Chamber of Commerce.

“We gave plenty of notice,” Cross said. “It’s an unfortunate symptom. ... People will have to find another way (to get to the restaurants).”

An MDOT survey in October recorded public preference on three options, Cross said. The option to close one direction at a time garnered 87 percent of the support, took the least time for construction and cost the least in traffic control.

Dan West, president and CEO of the Livonia Chamber of Commerce, said he has heard concerns from people about commuter delays, especially since I-96 was recently under construction in Livonia, as well. He noted, however, many employers explained to their workers the situation and offered alternative routes.

“No one was surprised,” West said. “We’ll have a high-end, fresh freeway to be used for commuting and transportation. That can only be a good thing.”

Optimism in recovery

Chili’s manager Andrews said because the restaurant chain has locations in Canton and Livonia, most of its business is from Novi, Commerce and Farmington. He said with the southbound route now open, he expects to see business improve.

Others are not so optimistic. On the Border’s Grauzer said though many of his customers are from South Lyon, many also come from Livonia, so he does not think business will bounce back until northbound lanes reopen. MDOT’s detour for the closure is 211/2 miles longer than the original route, moving northbound traffic farther west from I-275 to I-96 to the M-39 Southfield Freeway to the M-10 Lodge Freeway to I-696.

After sitting down in a booth for lunch with her grandson Wednesday, customer Pat Thomas of Livonia said On the Border had fewer patrons than normal. “It was a mess getting here,” she said. “It took us a long time from Seven Mile to Eight Mile.”

Still other business managers — like Amanda Redick at the Mobil gas station off the Six Mile exit in Northville Township — said they remain uncertain as to whether business will improve with the southbound lanes now open.

Robertson from Buca di Beppo said, “I’m hoping, but we’ll have to wait until they finish.”

(313) 222-2032

Twitter: @RightandNoble