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Repair and upgrade of Michigan’s largest bridge beginning early next year will shut down southbound travel along Interstate 75 between Detroit and Downriver for two years, forcing commuters to find different routes to work and play.

The $165 million overhaul, known as the Michigan Department of Transportation’s I-75 Rouge: Detroit Downriver Connection project, will allow crews to remove and replace the entire concrete surface on the battered I-75 bridge over the Rouge River.

Motorists on the bridge have reported falling concrete and gaping potholes. In some spots, the damage has bored completely through the deck. MDOT will also rehab 13 other nearby bridges during the closure.

To complete the project, MDOT will end southbound travel for eight miles along I-75 between Springwells in Detroit and Northline in Southgate. Southbound traffic will be detoured while northbound traffic will be maintained throughout the project’s duration on northbound lanes in 2017 and on southbound lanes in 2018.

“A great deal of thought and long-term planning went into this project, and many options were considered for detours, and closing southbound was the best for many reasons,” MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said. “While it will require some extra time, extra miles and extra patience for southbound drivers, it is necessary for the major repairs required on I-75.”

MDOT officials have offered a detour — primarily to truckers — to take westbound Interstate 96 to southbound Interstate 275 that leads back down to southbound I-75, and hoping the local traffic will traverse traditional southbound streets running parallel to I-75.

“Even though I know it’s a long detour, we’re hoping folks are going to take Fort Street, Jefferson and some of these other roads, but for the truckers, we said you need to take this detour,” said Bill Erben, construction engineer in charge of the I-75 project. “Folks are pretty smart. They’ll find a way.”

The project impacts many Metro Detroit communities, including Melvindale, Lincoln Park, Allen Park, Southgate, Taylor and Brownstown Township.

Erben said if MDOT officials had kept I-75 open both ways, it would have taken more time to complete the project and done each bound of traffic in two separate years. The contractor chosen for the bulk of the work is C.A. Hull Co., out of Walled Lake, for $149 million. The remaining costs will go toward the repair of other bridges down the corridor.

“It’s a massive amount of work,” Erben said of the bridge part of the project. “It’s up in the air. We have to work with the Coast Guard to maintain navigation on the Rouge at all times. It’s an extensive amount of work. It’s very challenging. And we’re trying to work in a way that’s the least disruptive to the city. But there are some unique challenges.”

MDOT has said the bridge piers — some of which are 100 feet tall — are considered to be in good condition because of regularly scheduled maintenance. But the span’s decking is rated as being in poor condition.

MDOT discussed its plan at a public meeting in August. Mike Budai, traffic operations engineer with the department, said in August that patching and repair were no longer feasible and the bridge’s deck was “in dire need” of replacement.

The project’s repairs are expected to last 50 years.

Constructed in 1967, the 1.63-mile-long Rouge River bridge is considered the largest in Michigan in terms of surface area. It carries 37 million vehicles a year, of which 15 percent are trucks.

MDOT had looked at the possibility of replacing the entire bridge, with initial construction costs estimated between $271 million and $315 million that later ballooned to more than $400 million.

MDOT officials notes the project also will:

■ Remove and replace the concrete surface on the two Dearborn Street ramp bridges adjacent to the Rouge River bridge as well as the Fort Street bridge just north of the Rouge River bridge.

■ Remove and replace the bridges carrying I-75 over Goddard and the drain north of Goddard.

■ Pavement patching on northbound and southbound I-75 between the Rouge River and Goddard.

■ Add the so-called Intelligent Transportation System equipment, which includes electronic signs, cameras and traffic information gathering equipment to help MDOT communicate with motorists about travel times, safety and traffic issues.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming

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