Emergency plan for Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge approved. What to know

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The Wayne County Commission on Thursday unanimously approved an emergency $9 million contract to repair and reopen the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge by fall. 

Commissioners approved the contract with Wisconsin-based J.F. Brennan Company for foundation rehabilitation work on the bridge that extends over the Trenton Channel in Grosse Ile Township and Trenton. The bridge has been closed since May.

The Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, shown from Grosse Ile, on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

Engineering work is expected to begin immediately. Construction is set to get underway in early April, with the bridge projected to reopen in September, Wayne County officials said. 

Beverly Watts, the county's director of public services, prior to the vote on Thursday said the bridge — one of the county's oldest — was "already on life support" when she stepped into the role in 2016. It's being inspected every six months and safety, she added, has been the top priority. 

"We really feel the hardship of all the residents on Grosse Ile," she said. "The criticism, we take it.

"The remarks of people who say 'Wayne County doesn't care, our department doesn't care,' we keep focused. I told the team to stay focused, let's get the job done, get the repairs done, get the planning done." 

The lengthy closure of the bridge — the sole free access point to the island community of 10,000 residents — spurred outcry from upset and inconvenienced residents who have urged the county to come up with a permanent fix. More than 1,700 neighbors signed a virtual petition launched on Wednesday by eighth-generation resident Kyle de Beausset asking the county to fix the bridge and "Fix it right."

Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Wayne County, said Thursday that the fixes are expected to sustain the bridge for one to two decades — enough time to come up with a viable, longer-term plan. 

Although he was pleased with the vote, de Beausset stressed the need for a partnership between the community and the commission going forward to rebuild trust.

The last time the bridge was closed for reconstruction in 2007, he noted, a promise was made to residents that the improvements would sustain it for 20 to 30 years. But 10 years later, he said, there are issues.

The Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, on the Trenton side, on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

“With reason, there’s a lot of frustration, a lot of harm that’s been done since this bridge has been shut down,” he told commissioners Thursday. “Part of what’s going on here is a lack of trust that’s built up over time. I hear you all and have confidence myself of what you all are saying that this fix will keep things open 20 to 30 years … I hope that we all can just work together to rebuild that trust.”

Longtime resident Ed Nykiel told commissioners the project approved Thursday will target only a portion of the bridge piers.

“Shoring those up is only part of the puzzle,” said Nykiel, who suggested the county set aside other funding for what he expects will be other necessary repair work down the line. “This is just a temporary thing, really. If it’ll get us 30 years, that will be great, but that might just be wishful thinking.”

Matthew Chynoweth, chief bridge engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation, noted in an interview with The News in November that the bridge's piers are original and nearly 100 years old. Ultimately, he said, the structure must be removed and replaced. The long-term solution is expected to cost $80 million to $100 million.

For subscribers:Grosse Ile bridge needs to be removed and replaced, MDOT engineer says

Watts reiterated the necessity to replace the bridge. Securing the dollars necessary, she told the commission, will require the support of state and federal partners. 

The project approved Thursday will be financed with dollars allocated to the county's road fund from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Island residents learned in November, one month before repairs were set to be completed, that the bridge was expected to remain closed for at least another year. Without Thursday's emergency contract, the work might not have been completed until 2022, officials said. 

Wayne County's administration has said it learned in November that significant deterioration of the bridge's support piers would keep it closed at least until this fall. 

The Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

The bridge's May closure came after a November 2019 inspection revealed the need for emergency decking repairs.

The island township in the Detroit River has endured inconveniences from the shutdown for about nine months. Residents and other travelers are paying $5 per day for trips over a privately owned toll bridge while awaiting the emergency decking repairs. 

Wayne County Commission Vice-Chair Joe Palamara applauded the administration for working with commissioners on a plan to get the critical repairs done and to send a message to the community that: "Today is our turn to do our job."

"To say that the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge being out since May of last year has been a hardship to Grosse Ile residents and others who use that bridge would be a vast understatement. It's been quite brutal for many," said Palamara, who represents the 15th District, which includes Grosse Ile. 

Commissioner Ray Basham, of the 14th District downriver, added residents are "a little more than upset" with the delay.

"It's a public bridge. It was made a long time ago. To get the parts and do the repairs takes some extensive work, extensive planning and extensive engineering," he said. "I'm absolutely in full support of this project and moving forward as fast as possible."

Wayne County's administration said severe erosion was discovered by engineers during an inspection last fall. Prior to that, a spring inspection didn't uncover any significant issues, officials have said, although records show deteriorating piers had previously been identified in inspection reports.

There already had been a longer-term plan to strengthen the bridge's pylons in phases based on past engineering studies. That work was scheduled for sometime in 2022.

The Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, shown from Grosse Ile, on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.