Grosse Ile 'free' bridge to reopen with Friday ceremony

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Grosse Ile — When the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge reopens Friday morning, according to Wayne County, it won't be a simple matter of rolling away construction barriers. The reopening will be a full-blown ceremony on the Trenton side of the bridge.

At the 10:30 a.m. ceremony, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans; U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; County Commissioner Joseph Palamara, D-Trenton, and Grosse Ile Township Supervisor James Budny are expected to offer remarks.

Officials have said the bridge would reopen before the end of the year.

There are two bridges from mainland Wayne County into Grosse Ile Township: the free, county-operated Parkway Bridge, which handles 75% of bridge traffic, and a toll bridge that handles 25% of traffic. The toll bridge was built in 1913; the county bridge was constructed in the 1930s.

A panoramic photo showing the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, also known as the Free Bridge, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

But the county bridge has been closed since May 2020 due to its condition after a November 2019 inspection revealed the need for emergency decking repairs.

Nov. 2020:Grosse Ile bridge to remain closed at least another year after severe erosion of piers found

This forced all the traffic for the township of 10,000 onto a bridge that costs money to cross and usually handles much less volume. The toll bridge also has a lower weight limit, 34 tons compared with 82 tons on the free bridge.

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 meant more trucks, more runs and higher costs.

Repair work didn't start until June, after some delays obtaining state historical permits that were applied for in April.

More:Repairs on Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge to begin June 14

The toll bridge was more costly for local businesses and area families, and it grew into a contentious topic for the township.

"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 Grosse Ile Civil Association, said in the spring, before the permits had been granted, when the timing of the project appeared uncertain to observers. 

More:Historical review delays permit for Grosse Ile bridge work

He 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."

Wayne County believes the latest repairs will add "20 to 30 years" of life to the bridge, which is approaching its 90th birthday in 2022.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge was "the last through truss swing bridge to be constructed in Michigan."