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2-year I-75 project in Downriver area to begin Feb. 4

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
MDOT will end southbound travel for eight miles along Interstate 75 between Springwells in Detroit and Northline in Southgate.

A two-year shut down of the southbound lanes on Interstate 75 in the Downriver area will begin Feb. 4, the beginning of a process to repair and upgrade Michigan’s largest bridge in dire need of repair, state transportation officials announced Monday.

The Michigan Department of Transportation held a briefing with reporters Monday to discuss the $165 million overhaul that will remove and replace the entire concrete surface on the dilapidated I-75 bridge that crosses the Rouge River. Completion of the project is estimated for October 2018.

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.

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

MDOT officials say another public meeting will be held with residents in January, and they are hoping the attention given to the project will help motorists heading south toward Downriver to reroute on local roads and truckers to use highway detours from I-96 to I-275.

“We’ve been planning on replacing it for awhile,” said Matthew Chynoweth, deputy region engineer for MDOT. “Just the logistics of planning and designing the construction of a project like this — plus also the budgeting — took us a number of years for us to pull all that together.”

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.

Chynoweth said MDOT officials struggled with the idea of leaving both lanes of traffic open as they repair the bridge in two years, and it wasn’t doable.

Bill Erben, construction engineer in charge of the I-75 project, said the construction of the bridge is “quite a challenge” and that one direction of the bridge roadway per year will be repaired.

Erben said there is a maximum $2 million incentive to finish the project early.

“What drives the decision to close the bridge versus maintaining traffic is construction time frames, and we hear from the public over and over again, we want you in and out,” Chynoweth said.

“If we’re going to be inconvenienced, make it for the shortest time possible. We were looking at probably a three-year, maybe even more than that, long project. So this way, we viable detour for southbound. And yes, we understand it’s quite a ways around.”

For years, motorists traversing the bridge say they have witnessed falling concrete and massive potholes, with some damage completely exposing the deck.

Chynoweth said the plan to replace this deck has been in process for a number of years and that “what a lot of folks saw was over the past two or three years, we did a lot of patching on this deck.”

“This is the largest bridge in the state of Michigan in terms of width and length,” he said.

MDOT officials said they will also be coordinating with the construction in a few years of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Cshawn Price, 42, who lives near Fort and Schaefer in Detroit, said she expects the bridge closure — even if it’s just the southbound lanes — to be a major headache for motorists in that area.

“I can understand them redoing and repairing it, but I don’t feel that it should be closed that long,” Price said as she stood in the lobby of a Metro PCS phone store on Schaefer. “Two years to them is like a lifetime to people who actually have to get up in the morning and take a route that rerouted to their jobs.”

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 note 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.

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Twitter: @leonardnfleming