Detroit to receive nearly $25 million to fix most dangerous streets

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Detroit will receive $24.8 million to improve safety on the most dangerous roads in the city, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday.

Detroit has one of the worst traffic fatality rates in the nation, according to the agency, and the per capita fatality rate rose 88% between 2017 and 2020. Wayne County has had nearly 16 times more traffic deaths than the average U.S. county since 2016.

The new funding will be used to revamp existing infrastructure to improve pedestrian safety and reduce crashes in areas with the most deaths and injuries. Most improvements will be in what are considered historically disadvantaged areas of the city.

The City of Detroit has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the country, according to the Department of Transportation. In this map, DOT shows census tracts it considers "historically disadvantaged" that have experienced a fatal crash between 2016 and 2020.

Detroit plans to use its funding to convert streets from highways with multiple lanes and no divider to roads with fewer lanes and a turn lane or bike path, also known as a "road diet."

It also plans to install signals that will allow pedestrians to enter crosswalks a few seconds before cars are given a green light, making it easier for walkers to cross and for drivers to see them, and to build "pedestrian refuge islands," which gives pedestrians a safe place to wait as they cross large intersections.

High-visibility crosswalks, flashing pedestrian-crossing signs, raised crosswalks, more lighting and protected left-turn phases will also be installed to further protect people getting around the city by foot.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan thanked U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and the Transportation Department for the grant in a statement, and said the funding would bring improvements to 35 miles of "commercial corridors."

"This grant will provide resources that will be key in enhancing traffic safety throughout the city," added Detroit Public Works Department Director Ron Brundidge. "We are committed to implementing proven measures that will make a real difference in reducing speeding and improving safety on city streets, with a targeted emphasis on corridors with the highest volume of incidents."

The city estimates the improvements will cost around $450,000 per mile with around 17.6 miles of road impacted by the safety projects. The federal funding will cover 80% of the project with the city providing the other 20% of the funding.

Portions of Whittier Avenue, Van Dyke Street, Mack Avenue, Vernor Highway, Wyoming Avenue, Schaefer Highway, Evergreen Road and Joy Road are slated for "rapid implementation," according to a graphic provided to the Department of Transportation by the city. Stretches of Seven Mile, Livernois, Plymouth Road and others are listed for "enhanced protection projects."

Detroit was selected because of its high fatality rate, its focus on disadvantaged neighborhoods, and its "thoughtful, data-driven proposal," said Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg in an interview with The Detroit News.

"This is a national challenge, but you are particularly facing this in Detroit right now — a very high and growing fatality rate on your roadways," Trottenberg said. "To the credit of so many important constituencies in the city, (there is) a real sense of urgency to address these deaths."

The grant is part of a total $800 million DOT is doling out to communities around the country in the first year of a $5 billion, five-year program put in place through the infrastructure law passed in 2021.

The agency is awarding 37 grants for implementing projects and 473 grants for planning improvements in the first round of funding. Detroit is the only city in Michigan to receive a grant for implementation rather than planning, according to the mayor's office.

Thirteen other cities or local government agencies were given planning grants, including Ann Arbor, Ferndale, Highland Park, Kalamazoo and Lansing. Those cities can be considered for implementation funding in future rounds, Trottenberg said.

The funding comes after traffic fatalities nationally reached a 16-year high in 2021 and remained at similar levels in 2022, according to preliminary estimates.

"Every year, crashes cost tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy; we face a national emergency on our roadways, and it demands urgent action," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. "We are proud that these grants will directly support hundreds of communities as they prepare steps that are proven to make roadways safer and save lives."

Twitter: @rbeggin