Detroit official explains why hole in bridge went unreported to MDOT

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A gaping hole in a Detroit pedestrian bridge that injured one man went unrepaired for nearly a week because Detroit Public Works Department employees didn't listen to voicemail messages from police, city officials said Tuesday.

Detroit resident Ely Hydes said he was walking to a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park on May 9 when a portion of the Spruce Street pedestrian bridge gave way under his feet.

Hydes, 36, fell nearly 15 feet onto the shoulder of the Lodge Freeway, just feet from traffic, and incurred multiple scrapes and bruises. Hydes said a Detroit police scout car pulled up, and he alerted the officers to the fall and bridge collapse.

More:State was told of problems before man fell through Detroit bridge, nonprofit says

The officers followed protocol by securing the area before phoning the Public Works Department and leaving voicemail messages, Detroit Police Sgt. William O'Brien said Tuesday.

But Public Works Deputy Director Oladayo Akinyemi said agency employees didn't listen to the messages, which is why officials at the Michigan Department of Transportation, which has responsibility for the state's pedestrian bridges, were not informed.

The oversight left the large hole in the bridge for nearly a week, secured only by plastic crime scene tape and plastic pylons, until The Detroit News reached out to MDOT on Sunday.

The concrete on the Spruce Street pedestrian bridge over the Lodge Freeway in Detroit collapsed under him as he was crossing it in Corktown on May 9, said lawyer Ely Hydes.

Akinyemi said in a text message: "A DPD officer did leave a voicemail regarding this incident in a general mailbox for the street maintenance division after hours. Unfortunately, staff did not get through all the messages to listen to this one, which is something we are addressing internally."

Akinyemi added: "We are also going to make sure that DPD and other city departments have a more appropriate after-hours contact number for issues like this that constitute an immediate safety hazard so they can be received and addressed immediately."

Ely Hydes, pictured on Monday, May 16, 2022, in Detroit, describes falling through a pedestrian bridge over the Lodge Freeway a week earlier on May 9.

MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said earlier this week the agency wasn't aware of the hole until The News inquired about it on Sunday.

A state repair crew immediately was dispatched to the bridge Sunday evening, Cross said.

The 199-foot-long Spruce Street pedestrian bridge was deemed in "Serious condition" following the most recent MDOT inspection in May 2021, according to a report the agency provided to The News.

"Patched and unpatched spalls ... continued to deteriorate (on the bridge)," the report said.

More photographs by a state inspector on the problems with the Spruce Street pedestrian bridge.

According to the report, the bridge was built in 1953, the same year sections of the Lodge Freeway first opened. The bridge was last painted in 2005, the report said.

The inspection report included photographs documenting the structural issues with the bridge.

Problems with the Spruce Street pedestrian bridge were photographed a by state inspector

Todd Scott, director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, said his group has filed multiple complaints with MDOT about the condition of Detroit's pedestrian bridges, including the Spruce Street bridge.

"We've been complaining about that bridge and other pedestrian bridges in Detroit for a long time," Scott told The News Monday.

MDOT responded to his complaints about the Spruce Street bridge last fall and patched up a large crack on the west side of the structure, he said.

But Cross said MDOT didn't respond to any issues involving the bridge. 

"I’m unaware of anyone advising MDOT about this bridge previously," Cross said in a Monday email.

The pedestrian bridge that Ely Hydes fell through in Detroit, Michigan on Monday, May 16, 2022.

A group of Wayne State University students in 2016 visually inspected the then-71 pedestrian bridges in Detroit. Alex Hill, a professor at Wayne State's Center for Urban Studies, who also runs the DETROITography blog about mapping different parts of the city, helped the students with data collection and then created an online map showing the problem bridges.

The study found: "The structural integrity of 33 bridges, or 46%, is compromised. These structures are in operation yet each had observable issues ranging from crumbling and disintegrating concrete to significantly rusted support beams, down signage and missing fencing and railing."

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN