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DISLODGED: Repairs Will Force New Routes Into Metro Motorists’ Road Routine

Thu July 18, 2002 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Enjoy your trip down the Lodge Freeway this morning (July 15).

Because it’s your last chance for a more-or-less smooth ride into downtown for at least a couple months.

The construction czars at the Michigan Department of Transportation hope you won’t think of them as orange-vested ogres, but they’ll be scuttling the easy way for tens of thousands of metro drivers effective just after midnight tonight. That’s when the barricades go up, officially closing the venerable freeway between I-75 and Griswold Street downtown.

The closures will allow most of the freeway to be rebuilt. Six bridges over the freeway also are scheduled for repair. The $12.5-million project, with routine maintenance, should assure smooth driving for 15 to 20 years.

Detroit police hope commuters have a plan as they arrive at the closure Tuesday morning. Some may want to take MDOT’s suggested detour -- north on I-75 to I-375, then south to Jefferson -- while others may want to bull their way down Woodward, keeping in mind yet another set of orange barrels near the site of the new Compuware headquarters.

But police spokesman Sgt. Ricardo Moore recognizes that teaching an old commuter a new route isn’t always easy.

"Look at the fireworks," for example, Moore said. "Once we said we weren’t letting people head south on Woodward, it kind of panicked some people."

Hence the need to plan an alternate route ahead of time.

"If you’re accustomed to just beating the clock by just 1 second," Moore said, "well, those are the ones who aren’t going to catch the worm" Tuesday morning.

Commuters aren’t the only ones who’ll be affected by the closure. Guests of MGM Grand Detroit Casino -- located on the Lodge just north of Howard Street -- are going to face inconvenience, too.

The difference? Nobody’s offering to give a new car to all those beleaguered commuters, jammed up in traffic on their alternate routes.

That’s one of the promotions MGM Grand concocted to lessen the sting of what casino Spokeswoman Yvette Monet called "a minor inconvenience."

Every evening at 8 from July 15 to Aug. 30, some lucky gambler will win a new car, she said. Other patrons will win $100 worth of free gas.

"We think that’s going to be a great incentive to our guests," Monet said. "This theme is going to go well with what’s going on out on the road."

For several weeks, casino workers have been handing out flyers suggesting how patrons can get that new Corvette or Prowler they’ve just won around all the roadwork. They’ve even mailed the suggestions to their more frequent visitors.

"The road construction is a necessity," Monet said. "In the long run, it’s going to be of great benefit to our guests, so we think it’s a good thing."

Rob Morosi, a spokesman for MDOT, agreed. "It’s really going to present a much more positive atmosphere when driving on that roadway" after the work is done, hopefully by Sept. 12, Morosi said. "But the first two weeks are going to be difficult, there’s no doubt about it."

Commuters who have been taking the same route downtown for years will have to learn new routes during those first two weeks, Morosi said. After that, traffic should settle down.

One advantage is the spokes-of-a-wheel street layout of downtown Detroit. The many alternates -- Grand River, Michigan Avenue, Woodward, even Gratiot -- mean Morosi expects fewer traffic headaches than he had when MDOT shut down several lanes of I-75 in Oakland County last year.

"There weren’t very many other viable routes," Morosi said. "I don’t mean to minimize the impact -- it’s going to have a tremendous impact -- but after the first couple of weeks, commuters will know how to work their way around it."

And if they find themselves lost downtown, they can always look for Moore with the Detroit police.

"There’s lots of police presence downtown," Moore said. "I’m in uniform every day, and I’m more than happy to assist a lost commuter in the street."

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