Canton’s Ford Road a ‘blessing and a curse’

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Canton Township — An influx of new development along Ford Road has some residents worried about more congestion on the already busy thoroughfare.

Motorists travel along Ford Road near the corner of Lilley Road in Canton, one of the busiest intersections in Wayne County.

Several businesses, including Art Van Furniture, are constructing new buildings or revamping old ones on Ford Road, or M-153, in Canton Township to open in the next year. Although they bring new jobs and entertainment, eating and shopping opportunities, some residents fear more traffic to a 21/2-mile stretch that is home to three of the intersections with the most crashes in Wayne County.

The traffic is a positive thing for Art Van — officials there say that’s why they chose Canton Township for a new store.

“Ford Road is a very busy road,” said Diane Charles, vice president of corporate communications for Art Van, which plans to open its Canton location next spring or summer. “It’s a good retail corridor. That was the No. 1 attraction.”

Chipotle opened at Ford and Lilley on Friday in the community where drivers on Interstate 275 spot a blue and yellow IKEA sign before they see a smaller black and white Canton sign below it. Tom+Chee, MOD Pizza, World of Beer, T.J. Maxx, Fresh Thyme and Art Van also have plans to open new locations in Canton near Ford, said Kristen Thomas, Canton’s economic development manager.

All are located around some of the “most dangerous” intersections in the county, as dubbed by Michigan Auto Law in June based on statistics from the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Reporting Unit. At No. 1, Haggerty and Ford had 116 crashes in 2015, putting it at No. 6 in the entire state. Ford and Lilley had 89 at No. 2, and M-153 and Canton Center had 60 crashes at No. 6. All have seen an increase in the number of accidents over the past three years.

“Sometimes intersections are in a growing area that has resulted in a traffic volume the planners would never have imagined,” said Todd Berg, attorney for Michigan Auto Law. “The Canton area is a perfect example of this.”

In 2010, the average annual daily traffic count on Ford ranged from 30,700 near Canton Center to 49,700 near Haggerty, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Although local residents said they are looking forward to the variety new businesses bring to Canton, some have concerns that these new businesses could worsen those statistics.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Nicole Runyan of Canton. “I love the convenience and shopping, but I’m not a fan of the traffic and parking.”

Patricia Murphy of Plymouth said her former coworker had a friend who was killed trying to get out of a parking lot onto M-153.

“In that respect, it will be bad,” Murphy said. “It’s dangerous. The congestion is bad. If the traffic rises, it’s not going to be pretty for Ford Road.”

Others said they avoid driving on M-153. Kevin Jinks of Canton said although he appreciates the new stores and job opportunities, he wants to know that the infrastructure can handle the extra travelers.

The township and the Michigan Department of Transportation have made changes to help with congestion in the past year, Canton Supervisor Phil LaJoy said. Projects included lengthening routes to turn onto I-275 and creating a continuous third lane from Lotz to Lilley.

Wayne County and Canton are also paving Lotz from Ford to Cherry Hill with a $5-million MDOT grant. The concrete paving of Lotz is expected to be complete by the end of this week, and it will reopen for traffic, weather permitting, early September, said Tiffani Jackson, Wayne County Department of Public Services spokeswoman.

“Ford Road is vibrant,” LaJoy said. “Even in the economic downturn, it was vibrant. We try to keep as many of the businesses as possible down there.”

The township has created a plan with MDOT to turn Ford between I-275 and Sheldon into a boulevard to alleviate congestion, as well. It would separate opposing lanes of traffic with a median, eliminate left turns at major intersections and install U-turn lanes. They, however, don’t have the more than $40 million for it.

“Trying to improve the road is key,” LaJoy said. “It’s one of those things, where, if I were king, it would be fixed, but it’s all about the money.”

Thomas said the township has applied for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation — for the eighth time.

“One of these days, we’re going to get it,” Thomas said.

LaJoy said he is hopeful for the grant, since Canton is a growing community. U.S. census data shows median household income increased from $72,495 in 2000 to $82,243 in 2010-14. Median home prices have increased since February 2012 from $150,000 to $214,000 in April, according to Zillow.

Although new businesses may attract more drivers, their developments can help to alleviate traffic on M-153, too. The township has worked with businesses to connect parking lots between Sheldon and Morton Taylor and Haggerty and Lilley.

“We’re creating internal access between business, so you don’t have to go to Ford Road,” Thomas said.

Stephanie Hicks chops cilantro at Chipotle, which opened at Ford Road and Lilley Road. The restaurant near Interstate 275 and IKEA is filled with a high volume of people — good for business, bad for traffic.

Several of the new businesses said they considered traffic and parking in their plans.

“All of the traffic and the dangers, it’s a reality by the area,” said Jake Schostak, TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants brand leader for MOD Pizza, which serves personalized, individually sized pizzas and expects a December opening. “We took into consideration of how you can get into and out of our parking lot. We did a lot of testing with our own cars, and we felt it was time to move forward with it.”

Chad Wilson — who is spearheading Canton’s World of Beer, a restaurant that serves more than 500 beers and plans to open in mid-September — said its location west of Lilley was selected because of less traffic and the ability to more easily exit the parking lot.

Even with traffic challenges, however, Thomas said Ford remains an asset for Canton when selling itself to franchises.

“It’s very, very attractive to national retailers,” Thomas said. “When they see these high traffic counts, they say, ‘We need to be there.’ ”

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