Michigan gets $105M grant from feds to turn I-375 in Detroit into boulevard
Washington — Michigan is receiving a $104.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation toward its plans to eliminate the sunken I-375 freeway through Detroit and replace it with a lower-speed boulevard at city-street level.
The grant is a significant boon for the proposal, which dates to 2013 and envisions a walkable, leafy concourse integrated with the community and lined with shops, restaurants, homes and pedestrians on the eastern of edge of downtown Detroit.
The infusion of federal funding for the $300 million project will allow construction to begin as soon as 2025, speeding up the Michigan Department of Transportation's timeline by two years, MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said.
The total cost of the I-375 rebuild is estimated at $270 million, plus another $30 million for engineering, according to MDOT. But the long-sought project is still not fully funded.
"We will continue to work with the Legislature and local partners on additional funding opportunities," Cranson said.
City leaders have envisioned the elimination of I-375 as a way to reconnect once-predominantly Black neighborhoods divided by the highway when it was built in the 1950s and '60s, bulldozing the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley residential and commercial districts in the name of urban renewal.
"Creating the kind of streetscape that this community envisions is going to be a great future for how the streets and roads of the city ought to look," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters Wednesday in Detroit.
"And it's important because it addresses the damage done to a mainly Black community through the gash that was created in it that was I-375. That didn't have to be built that way."
While built for the ease of suburban commuters, the construction of I-375 and Lafayette Park displaced more than 130,000 people in Black Bottom and hundreds of drugstores, barbershops, restaurants, churches, banks and other businesses in the area. The freeway opened in 1964.
"We don't talk about these harms for the purpose of wallowing. We talk about them because we see a way to fix them," said Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
"There is an original generation of people who were displaced or cut off that may never fully be made whole. But to me, that's all the more reason for us to get to work quickly."
Buttigieg — in town for the Detroit auto show — is expected to formally announce the $104,657,051 grant Thursday morning at an event in Detroit with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and others.
"The project will improve safety, thanks to the construction of wider sidewalks and bike lanes and the installation of traffic (calming measures), smart technologies," White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu told reporters in advance of Thursday's announcement.
"And it will contribute to new economic development, the building of generational wealth, jobs and new businesses," added Landrieu, a former mayor of New Orleans.
The I-375 grant is among $1.5 billion that President Joe Biden's administration is awarding this week to 26 projects as part of Biden's $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted last year. Biden touted the infrastructure spending plan Wednesday during his visit to the Detroit auto show.
The federal grant awards are a result of a competitive process through the U.S. Department of Transportation's sought-after Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, which received 250 applications requesting over $26.5 billion total in funding this cycle, said Christopher Coes, assistant secretary of transportation for transportation policy.
"It's remarkable to see the community energy for this. We didn't cook this project up in D.C. and foist it on some community," Buttigieg said. "Michigan DOT and Detroit came to us with this application, and it won out in a very competitive process because it's so compelling for equity and for safety and for economic development, and even for climate."
It was thought that Michigan might apply for funding for the I-375 project from another federal program established by the bipartisan infrastructure bill called "Reconnecting Communities," aimed at correcting racial inequities in U.S. highway design such as freeways that divided Black neighborhoods.
Asked about this, Coes said that "Reconnecting Communities" is not just a program but a principle that officials are keeping in mind in spending all of the bipartisan infrastructure dollars available to the department.
"Particularly our discretionary programs, we're looking for ways that we can really reimagine, rethink our infrastructure and transportation systems specifically to be more modern, to be cleaner, to be safer and to be more equitable," Coes said.
Buttigieg also said programs like Reconnecting Communities don't have to be the only ones aiming to advance equity goals: "This is also just plain good infrastructure."
Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, applauded the grant award.
“I-375 bulldozed two vibrant Black neighborhoods and is part of an unjust and painful chapter in our history,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Instead of dividing our communities, we now have a chance to reconnect them and take a big step toward building a better future."
Peters said he pushed for the project to be funded because "it will not only spur economic growth and opportunity, but also help the city modernize critical infrastructure along the I-375 corridor, improve access to public transit, and address deep-rooted social and environmental justice concerns.”
In 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration pulled the project from MDOT's five-year capital projects lineup. MDOT Director Paul Ajegba said at the time the State Transportation Commission felt I-375 was "not aligned" with Whitmer's road bonding plan.
But earlier this year, Michigan officials said design was getting underway on the I-375 plans to replace the mile-long connector between Interstate 75 and Jefferson Avenue, with construction planned to start in spring 2027 and completion by 2030.
The project, which already has environmental approvals from the Federal Highway Administration, would raise the roadway by 20 feet to street level, integrate it with cross-streets and landscape a boulevard past Jefferson Avenue down to Atwater Street.
In place of the freeway, plans call for a six-lane boulevard from I-75 to Jefferson, transitioning to four lanes from Jefferson to Atwater.
MDOT has said the existing I-75/I-375 interchange would be reconstructed with a "smaller footprint," with reconfigured ramps providing access to the new boulevard, Eastern Market, Gratiot Avenue, Brush Street and Mack Avenue. This would eliminate the need to exit the freeway to stay on I-75, according to MDOT.
A new bridge would connect Brush Park and Eastern Market and there would be access to Brush Park from southbound I-75, according to the plans.
Transportation officials said the project would also install traffic-calming measures, eliminate weaving and merging areas along I-375 and I-75, remove the Jefferson Avenue curve and incorporate LED lighting in the project area.
Fifteen old bridges are slated to be removed, as well as two stormwater runoff pump stations, in addition to the rehabilitation of one remaining stormwater runoff pump station, according to USDOT.
Signalized intersections along the boulevard would be at Jefferson Avenue, Larned Street, Lafayette Avenue, Monroe Street, Macomb Street, Clinton Street, Gratiot Avenue and at the Blue Cross Blue Shield parking structure, according to MDOT.
Pedestrians would get wider sidewalks and crosswalks with signals, and cyclists would see separated cycle tracks, according to plans.
MDOT has said the potential exists for excess property that might be available in the future for redevelopment. The department has also noted the project would require the "de-designation" of I-375 — that is, permanently removing the section of freeway from the Interstate System of Highways.
Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.