Detroit Eyes Downtown Highway Conversion

From an urban-renewal-era barrier to a multimodal street. 

The nortnern end of I-375 in Detroit (Photo by Dave Hogg)

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Following the lead of cities such as Akron, Ohio, Montreal and New Haven, Connecticut, Detroit is moving ahead with plans to rip out an urban renewal-era freeway and replace it with a multi-modal surface street.

The freeway, I-375, runs south along the east side of downtown Detroit. Like many urban freeways designed in the hey-day of suburban white flight (and even today) its $50 million creation destroyed the historic African-American neighborhood of Black Bottom, the Detroit Free Press reports. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) began talking about converting I-375 into a surface street four years ago. Now, MDOT has narrowed down its vision to two design options, both of which involve ripping out the expressway and replacing it with a surface street complete with medians and bicycle lanes, according to MLive. The removal will be a first for metro Detroit, which is home to many freeways.

MDOT’s efforts will likely take time — the soonest the agency will began demolition is 2022, according to the Free Press. Over the next few years, the agency will further study how much the removal will cost (it’s estimated to be in the $50-million range) and figure out how to re-configure the interchange between I-75 and I-375 once the freeway has been removed.

Often, cities undertake freeway removal projects with goals of connectivity in mind. In New Haven, for example, officials plan to transform the highway into a boulevard that calms traffic and links up with downtown cross-streets, essentially knitting back together the neighborhoods their predecessors severed. Former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx highlighted the disruptive nature of freeways on a tour that encompassed Spokane, Washington, Nashville, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul last year.

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: detroithighways

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