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Detroit's I-375 Project Advancing to Reconnect Communities

Tue March 29, 2022 - Midwest Edition #7
Office of Governor Whitmer

(Michigan DOT photo)
(Michigan DOT photo)
(Michigan DOT photo) (Michigan DOT photo)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that the state of Michigan is moving forward with plans to replace the outdated I-375 freeway with an urban boulevard to spur economic development and provide easier access between adjacent areas of Detroit. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has concluded its environmental review process after securing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which allows the project to advance to the design phase, beginning this spring.

"With the conclusion of the environmental clearance phase, we will continue moving forward on the I-375 project," said Whitmer. "Since I took office, Michigan has fixed more 13,000 lane miles of road and over 900 bridges while supporting nearly 82,000 jobs. As we continue getting things done on the roads, however, we must take a closer look at the unjust legacy of so many of our freeways. This includes I-375, which paved through two prosperous Black neighborhoods decades ago, displacing 130,000 people, hundreds of small businesses, churches and more. Now, we must build up our state's infrastructure with equity at the core. While we cannot change the past, we must work harder to build a more just future, and that starts with listening to and engaging with the community and taking deliberate steps to get this done right."

"As development has pushed east from downtown and west from Lafayette Park, the barrier that I-375 represents in our city has become even more apparent," said Mike Duggan, mayor of Detroit. "Removing the freeway ditch and replacing it with a street-level boulevard will unlock enormous development opportunities. It was Black residents and Black businesses that were hurt when Black Bottom was wiped out and they were displaced for the construction of this freeway. Black businesses today should benefit from the enormous development opportunities this project will create. The equity of who participates will be just as important as how the new boulevard ultimately will look. We can replicate what we did up on Livernois when we worked with neighbors to reimagine that historic business district, which is now the city's most vibrant and successful Black-owned business corridor."

"Reaching this milestone required an extensive amount of listening for many years," said Paul C. Ajegba, MDOT director. "Working through issues and concerns raised by community members is key to any successful project. Clearing the environmental hurdle allows MDOT to proceed with further partnering opportunities throughout the design process."

I-375 was built more than 50 years ago. During construction, prominent Black neighborhoods Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were demolished to make way for the freeway. Constructed through a thriving Hasting Street, the new I-375 opened in 1964 and created a barrier between the central business district in Detroit and the neighborhoods to the east, resulting in decades of underinvestment and a lack of opportunity for the predominantly Black communities on the other side of the freeway.

Several blocks of commercial and residential buildings also were levelled to make way for the freeway and urban renewal. Although I-375 has a number of cross-bridges, many properties declined due to reduced connectivity and especially because the community's economic and residential base was substantially dislocated.

Today, almost three generations later, Michigan has an opportunity to eliminate this obstacle and provide easier access to better jobs, services and quality of life to the residents of adjacent areas of persistent poverty. After nearly 60 years of use, I-375, the I-75/I-375 Interchange and associated bridges are nearing the end of their useful service life and require modernization.

Extensive research was conducted starting in 2014 with a Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) study to identify and evaluate alternatives for the corridor that would meet the transportation needs of all users in a cost-effective manner and improve connectivity. The PEL determined that the transformation from a freeway to a boulevard was feasible. The conclusion of the PEL lead to an Environmental Assessment (EA) study to document the human and natural impacts associated with any proposed improvements. Guided by the study's purpose and need, as well as extensive public outreach, a preferred alternative was developed and presented at both a virtual meeting and an in-person public hearing in January 2021.

MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have documented and thoroughly reviewed the public comments submitted in the FONSI, which is the final National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decision document and describes why the I-375 improvement project will not have any significant environmental impacts expected to occur upon implementation of the selected alternative design. NEPA is about people and places and balances engineering and transportation needs with social, economic and natural environmental factors.

To address public comments, MDOT added measures to be taken that acknowledge the impacts on residents and business owners in the former Black Bottom and Paradis Valley neighborhoods. These measures include:

  • Implementing a process for the community to provide meaningful input that can be incorporated into the final design. The process will begin with the formation of a new community-based local advisory committee.
  • Preparing and implementing a community enhancement plan, land use framework plan and aesthetic design guidelines with the new advisory committee.
  • Using the value of the excess property to fund community priorities that will be identified during outreach efforts.

The selected alternative is a street-level boulevard that will begin south of the I-75 interchange and continue to the Detroit River (Atwater Street), effectively using the city grid to disperse and collect traffic and opens additional connections to the riverfront, Eastern Market and Brush Park, and create a new local connector street from Eastern Market to Gratiot Avenue. Improved nonmotorized facilities include a two-way cycle track on the east side of the boulevard connecting the riverfront to the Montcalm Street extension and will extend west to Brush Street and east to Gratiot Avenue, where it will connect with the Dequindre Cut bicycle path.

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