14 Mile, Orchard Lake roundabout nearly open to traffic
Correction: There are four roundabouts in West Bloomfield Township. The number was incorrect in information provided to The Detroit News for this story.
West Bloomfield Township — As drivers in West Bloomfield and Farmington Hills can testify, a promised roundabout is not built overnight. One has taken months and motorists are still counting.
Orange barrels and construction work in the 14 Mile-Orchard Lake-Northwestern Highway area may soon be just a bad memory, according to the Road Commission for Oakland County, which joined project partners, stakeholders and road builders in a ribbon-cutting celebration Monday morning to note most travel lanes are beginning to open where the two communities meet and traffic frequently is a parking lot.
About $13.5 million of an estimated $16 million projected cost have been spent in road improvements in the area and officials expect it to be finalized in a few days
"The completion of the full roundabout project is still a few days away," Road Commission spokesman Craig Bryson said Monday. "But we have been opening up lanes little by little. The most positive note is all the concrete has been poured and laid out on the roadways so now it's really just a matter of finishing up curb work, including sidewalks, before it is all open."
Bryson said the "triangle" and the reconstruction of the three busy roadways have been underway since 2014, but dates back to the 1990s when the Northwestern Connector project was conceived as a way to address traffic congestion caused by ending Northwestern Highway at Orchard Lake Road.
An estimated 110,000 vehicles travel through that area each day.
"This is one of the most significant projects that we have taken on in recent years," said road commission chairman Ron Fowkes. "The new road configuration will ease congestion while improving safety and access to businesses throughout the area."
Intermittent lane closures can be expected until all work is completed, Bryson said, including installation of a High Intensity Activated Crosswalk for pedestrians.
The roundabout is the 21st in the road commission's system, the highest concentration of any county.
Motorists such as Farmington Hills attorney Bruce M. Gorosh said every week offers a different challenge along the Northwestern route.
"I will be very relieved when they are done," he said. "I think we all hope that will happen soon. Its a different traffic pattern every day."
Bryan Marshall, manager of Champps restaurant in the Gateway Shopping Center in the northwest corner of the roundabout, said construction has had a negative effect on business.
"Our business is down 15 to 30 percent," Marshall said. "We're excited that this might be coming to an end — whether it is two days or two weeks."
Marshall said customers tell him traffic backups in the area can take between 15 to 20 minutes to clear at particular hours, causing some of their regulars to alter their commuting routes "as far away as they can to stay out of this area."
"I went to one of our other restaurants at Middle Belt and 12 Mile in Livonia and found some of my regulars now going there," Marshall said. "They said it was easier than coming here."
West Bloomfield Deputy Police Chief Curt Lawson said the roundabout will be the fourth in his township.
"It takes residents about six months or more to get used to them but they reduce injury crashes and people speeding through red lights," Lawson said. "You have to slow down."
Farmington Hills Police Chief Chuck Nebus said his officers have stopped many motorists cutting through subdivisions to evade the intersection traffic jams.
Nebus said one thing motorists will have to learn is to slow down and be courteous.
"When an emergency vehicle approaches hopefully drivers will exit — clear out the roundabout immediately rather than pull over," he said.
The work is part of the larger Northwestern Connector project. The work involves road improvements intended to help move traffic as Northwestern Highway would have if it had been constructed beyond Orchard Lake Road as originally planned in the 1950s.
Previously constructed Northwestern Connector project improvements include the roundabouts at 14 Mile and Farmington Road, Maple and Drake and Maple and Farmington as well as the widening of 14 Mile to three lanes west of Orchard Lake Road.
Motorists may only have a brief break from orange barrels in the area.
Bryson noted there are still some additions to the Northwestern Connector project, including reconstructing Orchard Lake Road between Northwestern and Maple Road into a four-lane boulevard in 2017.