Drivers seek answers on I-75 Rouge River project

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

With a stretch of southbound Interstate 75 closed, Helen Belviso has spent months navigating the best route to reach her home in Woodhaven after working in Detroit.

The detour has more than doubled the commute, to about an hour. So when the hospital worker learned the Michigan Department of Transportation was hosting an open house-style public meeting Tuesday to update the public on the next phase slated to start in February, she made sure to attend.

“I’m trying to see what’s going to be closed when so that I can plan my life around coming home,” Belviso said while standing near project poster boards at Taylor City Hall. “It’s put a strain on anybody who drives Downriver.”

Tuesday’s meeting focused on helping motorists steer past delays during the third stage of the I-75 Rouge River Detroit-Downriver Connection project.

The $220 million effort to replace the concrete surface on the Rouge River bridge, fix road surfaces and replace or repair spans launched in early 2017.

Southbound I-75 lanes have been closed for nearly eight miles, from Springwells in Detroit to Northline in Southgate — forcing drivers to find alternate routes to reach destinations Downriver.

The first phase of the project was between Clark Avenue in Detroit and West Road in Woodhaven. The second phase, which MDOT expects to continues through late this year, involved replacing the concrete on an additional two-mile stretch of I-75 from Springwells Street to Clark Avenue.

The third and final phase aims to repair 11 bridges between Northline and Sibley roads. Rehabilitation includes crews replacing decks and widening the spans to add or expand shoulders, allowing emergency vehicles to avoid traffic tie-ups, said Mike Cagle, senior transportation technician with MDOT. “It’ll definitely decrease response time.”

That effort requires extending the closure nearly four more miles and relocating the I-75 re-entry point to the southbound Telegraph Road connector, project manager Bill Erben said.

As crews work through the fall, “it’s going to be an inconvenience for some,” he said. “We hope our signs and our campaign to get the word out, people will avoid the area.”

Avoiding delays is why Reletha Moch of River Rouge was among about 40 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting to ask team engineers questions and review maps showing detours.

“I was concerned about them finishing,” she said. “I learned what the progress is.”

Steve Jurko of Allen Park mingled in the crowd to watch a time-lapse video of construction and inquire about the project’s end date.

“It was helpful to know which areas are closed and at what points,” he said. “It filled in a lot of blanks.”

Though the project work affects many drivers’ paths for months, they should immediately notice a difference when it finishes — possibly ahead of schedule, Erben said. “It will be a more pleasurable driving experience because the roads will be in better shape — less potholes, less problems.”