Relief expressed over end of roadwork stoppage in Michigan

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
Road construction crews resume road work along I-696 near Ryan Road on Friday.

Warren — Shaunda Brown was relieved Friday that roadwork resumed along Interstate 696 following a labor dispute that shut down construction there and dozens of sites around the state for most of September.

Brown works at a tented structure in the parking lot of the Village Plaza at Mound and 13 Mile Road, selling plants, pumpkins, gourds, haystacks and other seasonal goods.

“I used to be able to travel between this store and the one we have on Woodward and 12 ½ Mile Road in about 20 minutes,” said Brown, 50, standing amid an orange sea of pumpkins. “Now, it takes about 40 minutes taking side roads. But soon we'll be able to get between here and there a lot quicker."

MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said Friday that “work resumed on a number of projects across the state to varying degrees.”

“Even while they are back at work, contractors will need a few days to assess each project and determine what’s doable before winter weather arrives in full force,” he said. 

The restart of construction Friday comes after Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday a short-term agreement through the end of the 2018 season had been  reached between the Operating Engineers 324 and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.

After its five-year contract expired in June, Local 324 said it didn't want to negotiate a new contract with MITA, the industry group representing contractors. The union said it wanted to bargain with individual contractors. MITA then imposed a work stoppage on Sept. 4.

But the temporary agreement ended the nearly month-long standoff that delayed projects across the state in the midst of a busy construction season and brought state consideration of using the National Guard to do some work. 

“Work did resume on I-696 and I-75 south of downtown," Cranson said. "Again, it’s too early to say what can be done yet this season, but MDOT is urging contractors to move aggressively.”

Road construction crews resume work at I-696 at Thomas Avenue in Warren on Friday.

Cranson further cautioned: “Just keep in mind that MDOT’s 89 projects that were in full or partial shutdown are a fraction of total road projects, with hundreds in the works on city, village and county road systems.”

Sara Courter, 20, who manages the Dunkin' Donuts in the Village Plaza on Mound and 13 Mile, also is pleased roadwork will continue.

"I'm excited about it because now I'll be able to take the freeway to work again," said Courter, who lives in Clinton Township. "It will just be a lot easier for everybody."

She noted business had been slow recently, "but it's been busier in the past couple of weeks, and I hope that continues."

A few steps down the road, Javon Wardrett, 20 of Roseville was preparing to get gas at a Marathon gas station. He said he's also looking forward to taking I-696 again, but he also said he understands the work stoppage.

"I don't blame them for stopping because of an issue with their contract," he said. ".. But as a result, all they've done is make traffic really heavy in a bunch of other places to get across town."