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Detroit area’s road map to construction season

Tom Greenwood and Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Winter-weary Michiganians aching to head up north will be slowed up this summer by a familiar foe: the orange traffic barrel.

The biggest projects are on I-75 and I-275, but road work season will also affect intersections such as Van Dyke at Metro Parkway.

Several of the season’s major road construction projects will impact major stretches on Interstate 75. The largest of the projects is a two-year, $127 million rebuild of a three-mile stretch of the freeway in Troy, Bloomfield Township and Auburn Hills.

The project, which is set to begin in June and be completed November 2017, will require lane closures in both directions while the freeway is reconstructed and widened between Coolidge Highway and South Boulevard in Oakland County. The average daily traffic count on I-75 there ranges from 103,000 to 174,000 vehicles.

Some I-75 regulars say they already are preparing.

“I regularly use I-75 to head up to Manistee for trout fishing,” said Royal Oak resident Tom Gorguze, president of the Detroit Area Steelheaders Club. “I was aware of the project and, personally, I think it’s overdue. We’ve been dealing with heavy congestion in that area forever, especially around Square Lake Road.”

Gorguze said he would most likely either change his travel times or seek an alternate route for trips to his favorite fishing spots.

“I’ll take Woodward up through Pontiac and then over to the freeway or maybe over to I-96 and then up through Lansing,” said Gorguze, who drives about 1,000 miles a week as a traveling salesman.

“The problem with I-96 is that it’s also a zoo with backed-up traffic. Maybe I’ll just modify my travel times on I-75, but it’s going to be a burden for anyone who travels that route regularly.”

There is no official detour for the project, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT will spend an estimated $422 million on more than a dozen road projects in southeastern Michigan this year. The state’s investment is up from the $329 million spent in 2015 and the $372 million divvied up in 2014.

But the increase in the construction budget does not include an infusion of cash yet from the $1.2 billion road aid plan the Legislature passed in 2015. The first set of dollars — $454 million — won’t happen until 2017 because the gradual increase in vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes won’t take effect until then.

“There’s a definite purpose and need for each of these projects in terms of addressing pavement and bridge conditions as well as elements and safety,” MDOT spokesman Robert Morosi said. “Construction season has always been a source of contention, but the reality of living in a northern climate, the window of opportunity to get these projects started and completed is limited.”

The biggest cost of the I-75 project is the reconfiguration of the interchange at Square Lake. Northbound I-75 at the Square Lake exit and entrance ramps will be changed from left lane to right lane movements.

The I-75 project isn’t the only work slated on Michigan’s main artery this summer. MDOT will also have projects underway on a five-mile stretch of I-75 between Dixie Highway and I-275 in Monroe County.

The project, a carryover from 2015, will see the rehab or reconstruction of six bridges, rebuilding of 10 ramps and upgrades to signs, guard rails, lighting, etc.

To the north, MDOT also has projects planned on I-75 around Flint, Birch Run and Bay County.

In the Flint area, MDOT will repair 13 miles of SB I-75 from Birch Run Creek to I-475 from April to October. Two lanes will be open during the day with the potential to go down to one lane at night.

Near Birch Run, MDOT will reconstruct and widen three lanes of northbound I-75 from Dixie Highway to Hess from April to November. Three lanes will be open during the day, two at night.

And in Bay County, from July to November, six miles of the freeway will be milled and resurfaced from the Bay/Arenac county line to Lincoln Road. One lane will be open in each direction weekdays, two lanes will be open on the weekends.

Trees have been downed along I-75 in preparation for road work.

Project could hurt business

The I-75 project in Oakland County will likely have an impact on businesses lining either side of the three-mile work zone.

Steven Wood, general manager of the nearby Alibi Restaurant on Rochester Road in Auburn Hills, is concerned about how congestion may hurt his popular restaurant.

“It will probably have an impact on my customers who drive up I-75 from Detroit, and on the dinner crowd driving the freeway after work who stop by for dinner or decide to order food and take it home,” Wood said.

“I have a large staff and some of them use I-75 to get to work so they’ll have to work that construction into their schedules.”

Home building contractor Joe Hagen will probably use the freeway up to a point and then seek alternate routes to reach job sites closer to Detroit.

“I wasn’t completely aware of the I-75 project, but I knew something was up because of all the thousands of trees I saw had been cut along side the freeway,” said Hagen, who resides in Clarkston.

“I’ll use the freeway as long as it doesn’t get too bad, but if I have to, I’ll head over and use Woodward or Telegraph and Walton on weekends for church.”

16 bridges to get fixes

The second largest Metro area project will be a $80 million rehab of a seven-mile stretch of heavily traveled I-275 from Five Mile to the I-96/696/M-5 interchange. The project — which began last weekend — will include repairs to 16 bridges and all interchange ramps.

According to MDOT, sections of I-275 will be closed down during the summer months — southbound in early May to July and northbound July to September — for the rehab project between Five Mile and the I-96/696/M-5 interchange in Livonia and Farmington Hills.

That stretch of freeway, which serves as a major “runway” to Metropolitan Airport, is used by an estimated 180,000 vehicles per day.

However, the freeway will not be completely closed to traffic as was I-96 in Livonia and Redford Township when the roadway was reconstructed from Newburgh to Telegraph in 2014.

The I-275 project will have a huge impact on the travel plans for Walter and Patricia Durant, who haul a 38-foot trailer behind their Jeep.

“I, along with other members of our chapter, use I-275 all the time so this will have a big impact on us,” said Walter Durant, who is president of the Inter-State Nomads, of the Michigan chapter of the National African American RV Association.

“Many of our trips are to the western portion of the state, such as the Saugatuck area. We’ll probably have to use alternate routes now, such as I-94 to U.S. 23 for our trips.”

MDOT began work on the I-275 project on April 8. Preliminary work will take place on weekends and week nights, with crews closing two lanes in each direction on I-275 to begin to prepare the surface for upcoming work and lane closures in late April.

As of Monday, MDOT closed eastbound Seven Mile over I-275 between Newburgh and Haggerty for one week. The suggested detour is Six Mile.

When EB Seven Mile reopens, WB will be closed for one week in the same area. The suggested alternate route is Eight Mile. Additionally, Meadowbrook Road will be closed for 10 days as of Monday with traffic detoured to 12 Mile and Grand River.

Van Dyke work resumes

Meanwhile, a $40 million project continuing from last year was restarted on March 29 on M-53/Van Dyke in Sterling Heights. Both intersections at 16 Mile (Metro Parkway) and 18 Mile are being totally rebuilt and is expected to be completed by the end of June or early July. There will be landscaping done from 15 Mile to 18 Mile as well.

Brian Travis, the assistant construction engineer for the Oakland Transportation Services Center, said the project is a continuation of the complete reconstruction of Van Dyke from 14 Mile up to 18 Mile last year.

At the intersections of 16 Mile and 18 Mile and Van Dyke, only two lanes instead of three will be open until construction is done later this summer.

“Right now, traffic is impacted the most on Metro Parkway,” Travis said of the project.

“We certainly encourage motorists to seek an alternate route. And I think our daily commuters have already done that or will do that. Expect minor delays. We always ask motorists to be patient, respect the construction work that’s going on and respect the construction workers.”

Another project, the resurfacing of M-24/Lapeer Road between Harmon in Auburn Hills and Goldengate in Orion Township, is expected to cost $33 million, said Sandy Montes, manager of MDOT’s Oakland Transportation Service Center, which is overseeing construction.

The area that traverses The Palace of Auburn Hills will have resurfacing, drainage work, relocation and reconstruction of crossovers and signal modernization and is expected to be done this fall.

“It’s a construction project, so you can expect some delays, no question,” Montes said. “We are doing everything we can to minimize those delays and the impact to traffic.”