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MDOT says Fort Street Bridge may reopen by mid-December

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Business owner Drana Sinistaj said she’s keeping her head above water, but the nearby Fort Street Bridge hasn’t made it easy.

Construction at the Fort Street drawbridge over the Rouge River on July 9, 2015.

“Our business has dropped probably 40 percent since the bridge was closed 21/2 years ago,” said Sinistaj, who owns and runs the A & L Ham Palace on West Fort Street and Woodmere Street on the city’s southwest side.

Specializing in ham sandwiches and dishes, the A&L Ham Palace sits a little more than a half-mile northeast from the bridge, which has been closed since spring 2013. “I don’t know how we’ve done it. We’ve made it this far and hopefully it will open soon.”

Michigan Department of Transportation officials said the bridge could open on Dec. 18. MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said motorists should check MDOT’s MiDrive website for any changes.

Sinistaj said that’s good news for her family’s restaurant, which she’s owned and run for 19 years.

“We’ll so happy when it opens,” she said. “It’ll be a big relief for us.”

MDOT started work to replace the 93-year-old double-leaf, fixed-trunnion bascule bridge — or drawbridge — in spring 2013 and hired Wixom-based bridge builder Toebe for the $46 million project.

“Our hope is that this bridge can last almost another 100 years,” Cross said.

The bridge was expected to open last December. The date was pushed back until mid-June, then mid-September and then again to the end of November.

Several issues delayed work on the project, Cross said.

“It has had issues from the delay in steel delivery due to frozen river to some issues in the location on a very, very busy river with all the marine traffic to the manufacturers and the need for Coast Guard approval to close the river to traffic to work in water multiple times,” she said.

The Fort Street Bridge and a few others like it were built on the Rouge River in the 1920s to give ships access to the Ford Motor Co.’s River Rouge manufacturing complex. Bridges like it are sometimes called Chicago-style bascules because they’re widely used in the Windy City.

The 278-foot bridge carries five lanes of traffic and two 8-foot sidewalks over the river between Dix and Interstate 75 in Detroit.

An operator opens the bridge an average of six to eight times per day to allow watercraft to pass through the shipping channel. On most occasions, it’s open for only a short time with about 10 percent lasting 15 minutes or more, according to MDOT.

Before MDOT closed the bridge for repairs, traffic over the bridge averaged about 10,450 vehicles a day, according to the agency’s most recent data.

There are two other bridges that cross over the Rouge River. One is Interstate 75’s, about a third of a mile downriver and to the south and east of Fort Street. The other is the West Jefferson Avenue Bridge, which is about a third of a mile south and east of the I-75 bridge. The state owns and maintains both the Fort Street and I-75 bridges, while Wayne County is responsible for the upkeep of the West Jefferson bridge.

State and federal agencies have deemed I-75’s bridge, a major artery for Downriver commuters and truck traffic, “structurally deficient” because of its deteriorating deck surface.

The 48-year-old span, which carries four lanes of traffic each way up to 100 feet over the Rouge and the nearby Marathon refinery, is scheduled for deck replacement in 2017 at an estimated cost of $80 million, according to state officials.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Avenue’s bridge over the river has been out of service since May 2013, when it was lowered onto a passing ship and damaged.

But Wayne County officials said in September the project to fix the disabled bridge is underway and expected to be finished by August.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058