I-75 closure starts Saturday

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Michigan’s largest bridge will undergo a major overhaul that will shut down Interstate 75’s southbound lanes for two years beginning Saturday, wreaking havoc on commuters from Detroit to Downriver and beyond.

Officials estimate the project will be completed in October 2018. MDOT said there is a maximum $2 million incentive to finish the project early.

The $165 million project involves removing and replacing the entire concrete surface on the perpetually pockmarked I-75 bridge that crosses the Rouge River in Detroit. The freeway closure spans eight miles, from Springwells in Detroit to Northline in Southgate. Southbound traffic will be detoured while northbound traffic will be maintained throughout the project’s duration on northbound lanes this year and on southbound lanes in 2018.

Commuters such as Tara Segrist, who drives to and from Detroit from her home in Lenawee County, aren’t looking forward to the disruption.

“It’s going to probably be another additional half an hour for me for my commute, which is going to be horrible because I’ve got kids at home. But you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess,” said Segrist, 45, a dispatcher for a trucking company in Detroit. “My commute home will probably be at least two hours.”

That will be the stark reality for motorists who must reroute to side streets, such as Jefferson or Fort for local traffic, and to I-96 or I-94 for more crowded freeway space.

Segrist said her typical commute to Onsted is a 1 hour and 15 minutes because she uses I-75 part of the way. Now, she thinks she will use side streets to connect to other thoroughfares, such as the Southfield Freeway, to get home.

“All of it is going to be congested,” she said.

MDOT officials said the traffic for the approximately 105,800 motorists per day who travel that I-75 stretch will be managed. Officials estimate the project will be completed in October 2018. MDOT said there is a maximum $2 million incentive to finish the project early.

“The I-75 Rouge River bridge is vital to the flow of commerce and commuters in Southeast Michigan,” said Kirk Steudle, director of MDOT. “We know the bridge deck replacement will cause some inconvenience, but safety is our top priority, and this work will extend the life of this heavily traveled bridge....”

In preparation for Saturday’s closure, work crews on Friday will restripe some lanes, uncover and cover signs along the freeway and detour routes as well as move barrels onto shoulders near ramps and service drive areas.

For years, motorists on the bridge have reported massive potholes and loose and falling concrete. In some areas of the bridge, the damage shows through the deck. MDOT will also rehab 13 other nearby bridges during the closure.

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. 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.

Steven Gentry, president and owner of Detroit-based Rye Gentry Trucking, said his company has been preparing for the shutdown of I-75 for some time now and is looking at a variety of detours. And that, he said, “is going to fill every other road up” and cause more traffic headaches.

One southbound detour — primarily meant for truckers — will involve taking westbound Interstate 96 to southbound Interstate 275, and back to southbound I-75. Local traffic will be encouraged to detour along traditional southbound streets running parallel to I-75, including Fort and Jefferson.

“There’s really nothing we can do about it,” Gentry said. “The freeway runs from Mackinac Island to Miami. It’s not going to be easy, but there’s really nothing we can do.”

The southbound freeway closure spans eight miles, from Springwells in Detroit to Northline in Southgate.

Gentry said he’s been asked recently if he would put a surcharge on his rigs because of rerouting and delays due to the bridge construction. His company will try not to impose fees, he said.

Both Jefferson and Fort will be a mess, he said. His truckers, he said, are mostly independent operators but they would consider taking I-94 to U.S. 23.

‘We’ll find a way around it,” he said. “And there are multiple ways.”

Diane Cross, a spokeswoman for MDOT on the project, said the agency has worked “hard to ensure drivers are aware of the closure” of southbound I-75 for two years.

Cross said numerous meetings have been held with residents and business and community groups in places such as Lincoln Park, Woodhaven and Detroit “to get the word out about this important project.”

“Of course, we recognize there will be many drivers who will be unaware of the closure or didn’t realize it affected their commuting route,” Cross said. “The majority of drivers who normally use south 75 are being asked to take the detour of 96 westbound out to 275 southbound, which will take drivers back to southbound 75 in Monroe.”

Many drivers may not take the detour but will instead try the one lane of southbound 75 from I-96 to Springwells, but they should expect that to be backed up, said Cross.

Randy Churchill, president of Churchill Transportation in Detroit, said traffic will be a nightmare for motorists and truckers alike, but it will all work out in the end.

“I don’t think it’s a life or death situation,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”


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Weekend plan for I-75 construction

Crews on Friday will:

■ Uncover and cover signs along route and detour routes.

■ Move barrels onto shoulders, near ramps and service drive areas.

■ Restrip southbound I-75 lanes near Trumbull, I-96, Clark and Springwells.

Crews on Saturday and Sunday will:

■ Move barrels into traffic from Trumbull to Clark to complete closure at Springwells.

■ Close entrance ramps from Vernor to Springwells and Schaefer to Goddard.

■ Move barrels on northbound I-75 from Schaefer to Springwells to block lanes for installation of concrete barriers along median wall.

■ Block one lane of northbound I-75 from Northline/Allen to north of Goddard in preparation for bridge removal.

Crews on Monday will:

■ Have Goddard closed under I-75 and detoured for Goddard bridge demolition through Wednesday.

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation