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Published: Sunday, 2/24/2008

I-75 in Detroit shutting down starting Sunday night

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As the clock ticks tonight, I-75 eventually will cease being useful for motorists headed north into Detroit.

At 10 p.m., the Michigan Department of Transportation will close the freeway for a massive reconstruction project near the Ambassador Bridge that officials hope will take less than a year to complete but that could stretch into late 2009.

When it's all done, Toledoans headed to or from the Motor City will have a modern freeway to use, and those headed home from Canada won't have to meander through local streets in Detroit's Mexicantown neighborhood to reach southbound I-75.

But until then, they'll find themselves forced onto local streets unless they plan ahead and use any of several detour routes available to them during construction.

"This is really a good time for people to learn alternate routes," Brenda Peek, an MDOT spokesman in Detroit, said Friday. "With the price of gasoline where it is, you have to be very deliberate about where you're going now."

The $230 million project, the largest in MDOT history, will include rebuilding 1.5 miles of I-75, 1 mile of I-96, 18 ramps, and 24 bridges. A cable-stayed footbridge, providing pedestrian access across the freeway between the eastern and western halves of Mexicantown, will be built as an aesthetic landmark for the area.

By closing both I-75 and I-96 entirely, MDOT expects to rebuild them in 22 months instead of four years, and the contract includes incentives to the contractor to finish even faster.

If I-75 reopens by January, Ms. Peek said, an $8 million bonus will be paid, while $5 million will be paid if the freeway is ready in time for the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four, scheduled to be held at Detroit's Ford Field on April 4 and 6, 2009.

But if construction takes the entire 22 months, I-75 will be closed until Christmas, 2009.

At 10 Sunday night, I-75 will close in both directions between Clark Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard. Access to the Ambassador Bridge will be maintained, while other traffic will be directed along a posted detour route using Fort Street and Rosa Parks.

Officials' hope is that motorists will give the construction zone as wide a berth as possible. MDOT has posted signs along I-75 in Monroe County and even as far south as metro Toledo on several routes, warning of the I-75 shutdown.

For motorists headed north from Monroe County or Ohio, the detour route MDOT suggests is I-275 to I-94, then M-10 to reach downtown Detroit. To go to Oakland County, Michigan, officials hope travelers will take I-275 all the way to I-696 before returning to I-75. A slightly shorter route into Detroit, but one that involves a few traffic lights, is to exit I-75 at Southfield Road and go north to I-94 East.

The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) will jointly operate express commuter bus service during the I-75 shutdown, with a southernmost stop at a park-and-ride lot at the Gibraltar Trade Center on Eureka Road just west of I-75 in Taylor, Mich.

Inbound buses will leave between 6 and 9 a.m. weekdays, with return trips leaving Larned and St. Antoine streets in downtown Detroit between 3 and 6 p.m. The fare will be $2 each way. There will be two intermediate stops.

Once an I-75 reconstruction project near Rockwood gets going in May, both the express buses and the Southfield Road alternative will become less useful for anyone coming up from Monroe or Toledo. But for now, that's not a factor.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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