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Livonia — After five months of reconstruction, the Michigan Department of Transportation has reopened a stretch of Interstate 96 nearly a month early, shortening the commutes of thousands of early morning motorists Monday.

Closed in April, the freeway was originally scheduled to reopen in mid-October after being rebuilt between Telegraph and Newburgh in Livonia and Redford Township.

Barbara Vansteenkiste, a Livonia resident, lives a few blocks away from I-96. Though she doesn't hear traffic from her home, she could hear construction workers for months.

"They started at 6 a.m. and were still going at 11 o'clock at night. I could hear the boom, boom, boom," Vansteenkiste said Monday morning. "You could hear them going nonstop. I am so glad that's over."

For months, Dan Polovina had to leave his home 30 minutes early to get to work on time.

Not anymore.

The reopening of Interstate 96 late Sunday has put the Detroit resident back on schedule for his commute to Plymouth, where he works as an engineer.

"I am really excited about it," said Polovina, who moved to Detroit two days before the freeway shut down in April for reconstruction. "It improves my life dramatically. This is a success story. They finished early. People are happy. You don't hear about that often with freeways. Usually, people are complaining."

Announcement of the early reopening was made by Gov. Rick Snyder at Madonna University.

The work fixed 37 overpasses and 28 ramps, added new lights, upgraded utilities but inconvenienced more than 100,000 daily commuters in western Wayne County.

Announcing the early reopening was an iffy thing, according to MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross.

"We had two press releases ready," Cross said. "We kept asking the engineers, 'Can we say the freeway will be open to traffic by 5 a.m. tomorrow (Monday).' We got the OK and started moving barrels, barricades and ramps out of the way."

MDOT started on the eastbound lanes working from Newburg to Telegraph. The eastbound lanes reopened to traffic by 6 p.m. Sunday followed by the westbound lanes a few hours later.

"We still have some painting and striping to do, plus the exits to Outer Drive and Greenfield will remain closed for a while longer," Cross said.

Robert Anderson, 42, of Livonia, who works at a 7-Eleven near the freeway, said the reopening should help business at the store, which suffered during the construction. He's also ready for an easier commute.

"I use it almost every day," he said. "It's not only good for business but for myself."

Alice Harden of Detroit also was excited to learn I-96 was open again. "I can get to where I want to get to quicker," she said.

Before the freeway reopened to motorists, transportation officials opened it to pedestrians for the first time in its 40-year history. They were confined to a 1¾-mile stretch near Levan and Newburgh for about two hours.

"It's a lot of fun," said John Desautel, a Redford Township resident who walked his dog, Snickers, on the road.

At least 10,000 pedestrians "invaded" the freeway, MDOT's Cross said.

"People showed up in costumes, we had people riding unicycles and there were two marching bands," Cross said. "It was just a sea of people."

Among them was Ida Hendrix, who took a picture of herself next to the wrong way sign and was back on the freeway to pick up her mother for a doctor's visit.

"I'm happy about it," said Hendrix, a Detroit resident. "And the expressway looks fabulous."

Dana Getz of Livonia has waited for I-96 to reopen for months, programming the date on her cellphone.

"I want to be the first one in line on the ramp," said Getz as she guided her 8-year-old son, Dominic, on the new pavement. "I've never been so excited."

Getz said she had to add 20 minutes to her trek to her job in Ann Arbor since the freeway shut down for the overhaul.

"I didn't realize it was such a main artery," Getz said. "The work has been phenomenal."

Teichera Madison and her husband, Kevin, were also excited about the new and improved new I-96. She rode her bicycle while her husband walked.

"It's wonderful," said Madison, an Oak Park resident. "I'm happy they're allowing people to feel it out."

Euraka Ethridge of Redford Township rollerbladed on the road.

"It's awesome," Ethridge said. "The lights ... the pavement ... it's all beautiful."

But the work on the freeway went unnoticed by Alex Carroll, who works the counter at a doughnut shop in Livonia and doesn't own a car.

"It didn't affect me," said Carroll, 21. "I walk a mile and a half to work. I keep up my exercise."

Staff writers Oralandar Brand-Williams and Darren A. Nichols contributed.

TGreenwood@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2345

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