Historical review delays permit for Grosse Ile bridge work

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Grosse Ile — While a decision on the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge permit from the state is expected soon, a federal permit is delayed as historical concerns are evaluated by a state board. A review could last through mid-June. 

The Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge is a free bridge owned and operated by Wayne County, and when open, handles 75% of the traffic to the 10,000-person island.

The Grosse Ile Toll Bridge was built in 1913 and tolls are $5 cash or $7 credit card for most vehicles to enter.

The Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, shown Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, stretches from Grosse Ile, left, to Trenton.

Since May 2020, when the county bridge was closed for repairs, the toll bridge has been the only bridge available.

Wayne County received a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard but is awaiting permits from the Michigan department of the Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Tiffani Jackson, spokeswoman for the county's department of public services.

EGLE said it is assessing the effect of the bridgework on lakes and streams. A decision on that permit is expected soon, said Jill Greenberg, a spokeswoman for the department.

On April 8, Wayne County applied for a general maintenance permit with the Army Corps of Engineers, said Sarah Black, a project manager on the bridge.

Those permits are "typically reviewed in 60 days."

Repair permits were granted in 2018, 2019 and 2020, but the 2021 work was of a "much larger scope" than past efforts, with "work on every pier of the bridge" necessary, Black said.

"Shortly after we received the application, we sent to (the State Historic Preservation Office) what we thought were the historic properties they should consider, including the bridge," Black said. 

The expanded reach of the bridge work widened the historical concern, Black said.

"They came back to us with a much larger scope that included archaeological sites and other historic sites on the island of Grosse Ile that we were asked to consider in our undertaking," Black said.

The delays meant the feds only made their formal request to the historic preservation office on May 18. That was the start of a 30-day recommendation process that won't end until mid-June. 

"That's the final step for us," Black said. "I expect we will make a permit decision shortly after."

The preservation office will give an opinion, either that no historic properties are affected, that the work will have no adverse effect on historic properties or that there will be adverse effects, said Kathleen Achtenberg, spokeswoman for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The historical office is under the MEDC's purview. 

If there will be negative effects, "consultation will continue and will be resolved with an agreement to either avoid or mitigate adverse effects" once a strategy is identified, Achtenberg said.

The timetable for reopening the bridge is late 2021, said Jackson. 

"We're still on schedule," Jackson said early in the week. "We're anticipating this bridge to be open later this year, around November or December. Waiting on the permits has not pushed us back on the anticipated reopening."

When the Wayne County Commission in February approved $9 million for bridge repairs, the goal was to re-open in September.

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

Last May, when the bridge closed, the county expected work to start in April 2021. But Wayne County only applied for the federal permit in April. 

Jackson said "the conversation could change" if the permits were not received by early June.

Island residents have been frustrated with the ongoing delays in repairs, and the cost and inconvenience of having to use a toll bridge, the sole access point while the other bridge is shutdown.

The Grosse Ile Civic Association sent letters this week to all parties involved — the corps, EGLE, and the historic office — urging the permits be issued quickly. 

"The closure of the Parkway Bridge has not only caused a heavy financial burden for islanders who do not normally pay toll fares, it is putting public safety at serious risk," said Bill Heil, president of the association, in a statement announcing the letters.

Heil continued: "It is grossly unfair for the residents, businesses and stakeholder entities of Grosse Ile to be forced to pay toll fares because Wayne County officials failed to properly inspect and maintain the Parkway Bridge over a period of decades."

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

The free bridge has been closed since May 2020, leaving the less-used toll bridge to handle all of the island's traffic.

In his letter to the Army Corps, Heil said: "The toll bridge is being required to handle the volume of traffic in one year that it would normally carry in three years, which will in turn accelerate its maintenance schedules likely at a premium expense."

In April, the toll bridge had repair issues itself, requiring a 20-ton weight limit for vehicles for a few days.

April:Temporary weight restrictions on Grosse Ile Toll Bridge to end Saturday night

Had those repair lasted in to the next week, it might have affected the timing of trash pickup for Grosse Ile Township.

Heil said the Parkway Bridge has an 82-ton weight limit, while the toll bridge has a 34-ton weight limit. 

"This reduced maximum vehicle weight limit has had a severe negative impact on operations of local government and many businesses on Grosse Ile," Heil said.

Previously, the Grosse Ile Golf and Country Club told The Detroit News that it spent $23,000 on tolls for its workers in 2020. With a course makeover set in June, using a toll bridge with lower weight limits means more trucks and more runs.

"We can still do everything we want to do," said John Paul, general manager of the club. "It just costs more."