Detroit's Fort St. bridge may stay shut until September

Charles E. Ramirez and Oralandar Brand Williams
The Detroit News

Fort Street's bridge over the Rouge River, is going to remain closed to traffic a little longer.

"We currently have it listed as having a reopening date of August, but we may have to push it back to September," Diane Cross, a Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said Friday.

Earlier this year, MDOT officials said they aimed to reopen the bridge in mid-June.

Cross said crews are at the point in the project where they need to do work in the river, but MDOT needs to get the U.S. Coast Guard's approval to close off the river for about a week.

"Unfortunately, summer is a busy time on the river for the manufacturers' deliveries and we do not yet have a date when the river closure could happen," she said.

"We are continuing to work on the project but in a hold pattern for the work needed to be done in the water until we can get a date."

MDOT started work in spring 2013 to replace the drawbridge.

"It was supposed to open in the spring," said Dan Cooney, a former mayor and former councilman in River Rouge. "This is terrible."

Built in 1922, the Fort Street span over the Rouge River is a double-leaf, fixed trunnion bascule bridge, or draw bridge. Bridges like it are sometimes called Chicago-style bascules because they’re widely used in the Windy City.

For business owners like Drana Sinistaj,who runs A & L Ham Palace on West Fort with her husband , the project couldn't be completed soon enough.

"It's killing us," said Sinistaj waving a hand to an empty restaurant. "It's Saturday and Oh my God it's usually the busiest day of the week."

Sinistaj said the family business, which specializes in ham sandwiches and dishes, has lost a lot of business since the bridge reconstruction project started. She's pleading with state officials to "finish the ...bridge."

Just south of the Sinistaj's restaurant sits Hassan Baydoun's used car lot, House of Hardtops. Directly across from the construction detour signs and the bridge itself, Baydoun is also frustrated about the delay in finishing the new bridge's construction.

"It's hurting big time," said Baydoun. "I now only get customers every 4-5 days. We used to have a lot."

Baydoun says he's hoping that state will keep its new deadline in re-opening the Fort Street bridge.

Built in 1922, the Fort Street span over the Rouge River is a double-leaf, fixed trunnion bascule bridge, or draw bridge. Bridges like it are sometimes called Chicago-style bascules because they're widely used in the Windy City.

The historic, 278-foot bridge carries five lanes of traffic and two 8-foot sidewalks over the river between Dix and Interstate 75 in Detroit. The bridge's roadway deck is an open grid steel deck, flanked by steel grid sidewalks.

An operator opens the bridge an average of six to eight times per day to allow water craft to pass through the shipping channel. On most occasions, it's only open for a short time with about 10 percent lasting 15 minutes or more, according to MDOT.

Before construction on the bridge started, traffic over the bridge averaged about 10,450 vehicles a day, according to MDOT's most recent data.

"This type of bascule bridge isn't a typical type of bridge," Cross said. "We are hoping that the one we are building will last for another 100 years."

C.J. Fields and his wife Fannie called the delay "a nuisance" and are keeping their fingers crossed the bridge will open again soon.

"You have to go out of you way to go south," said C.J. Fields, taking a moment from painting his neat black and white frame bungalow on Woodmere Street. "If (road workers) close other streets we get locked in here."

Fannie Fields was less optimistic about the new completion date.

"I don't think they'll have it open in September," said Fields. "But if they don't the construction crews don't get a bonus."

Meanwhile, one other nearby span over the Rouge River is closed for repairs.

The West Jefferson Avenue bridge, located to the south and east of the I-75 bridge, has been out of service since May 2013 when it was lowered onto a passing ship and damaged. Wayne County maintains the bridge, which was built in 1922.

Officials said in April the project was scheduled to begin in June and finish in about a year.

Ryan Bridges, a county spokesman said, the county has bid out the project, awarded a contract and received the engineering study for it.

He said the study needs to be approved by the county commission and work will not start until that happens.

Bridges also said the county expects the project to be completed by the original deadline, but may have to adjust the time line when officials know exactly when construction will start.

Cooney said he's disappointed the Fort Street bridge won't open for another couple of months. Downriver businesses have struggled to stay open while bridge construction has cut them off from customers.

"We're suffering in this region with these bridges out," he said. "They keep promising us that these bridges are coming online to ease some of the pressure, but it's not happening. It's terrible."

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